“The Miami Dentist” is a strange, poetic, and engrossing short by David Baeumler, with an oddly comic tone. The credits are in the jaunty graphic style of the 1950s, and the screen is divided into multiple shots of the eponymous dentist (well portrayed by the filmmaker), always shown in a surgical mask, whether he is on a vacation in Europe, offering flowers to a lover, or rollerblading in a park. The narration, spoken by Kevin Silva in the tone of an educational film voice-over, is a series of enigmatic and disparate poetic statements about the dentist. (“When a Miami Dentist looks back at the whole aching valley of his life, he will gloss over all the times when he was rude to his well-meaning grandmother.”
These seemingly disconnected and surreal declarations are in fact all statements about how this masked dentist defends himself from the dangers of the modern world: whether it is by burning incense in an airport bathroom, or by playing avant-garde jazz on the bassoon. At the climax of the film, the dentist is shown having a breakdown, an inexplicable outpouring of grief, which is related, in an unspecified way, to the war-time traumas of his father’s generation in Korea. Did the dentist in fact move to Miami in order to flee from the traumas of war? Does he represent the mindset of postwar America, with the elaborate defenses of its privileged professional classes?
The overlapping images of the film’s visual format start off by looking as if several Super 8 projectors were being used in a simple multi-screen projection, but the format quickly evolves into more complicated and sophisticated ways of combining images. These formats usually illustrate the text. For example, a section on the dentist’s childhood memories is made to look like slides in a Viewmaster.
Baeumler’s performance as the dentist is full of the comic pratfalls, and many of the lines of text start off as if they are going to be “dentist jokes,” but the film is not in fact funny. This disconcerting and poetic strategy, where the forms of comedy are employed to express states of sadness and disconnection, creates a dreamlike state which reveals the nightmarish aspect of comedy. It makes one feel as if the universe is playing a joke on all of us, but because we are the butt of the joke, no one is laughing.
In “The Miami Dentist,” David Baeumler combines his talent for oddball, poetic texts, sophisticated visual collage, and comic-style performance, to create a strange and moving film poem about the fetishistic beliefs and behaviors of the American middle class.