Friday, June 24, 2011
Dogs In Space was re-released on DVD semi-recently, a cause for much celebration amongst friends of mine. I couldn't really share the mirth. I'd seen it many times before, though not for a decade or more, and each and every time the result was grave disappointment. Well, to be more accurate, the sense of disappointment decreased w/ each successive viewing. After all, I knew what I was in for. I first saw the film when I was 15, when it came out on video rental in 1987. The film itself first came out in 1986 and was quite a big deal down here. I was well aware of it at the time, being a budding young punker (though one who was, admittedly, also completely ignorant of the goings-on of the late '70s Melbourne punk rock scene), but due to its "R" rating, I couldn't see it until it hit the VHS/Beta shelves the next year (my parents would rent out anything for my brother and I, don't ask me why). Of course, it was a big deal possibly for the main reason that it brought forth the dubious acting talents of one Michael Hutchence to the world stage - him and his band were huge at the time, especially in their homeland - but at least that celebrity gave the film a push in the mainstream and clued the clueless on to the subterranean world of Melbourne post-punk ca. 1979, w/ the deviant sounds of the Boys Next Door/Birthday Party, Primitive Calculators, Thrush & The Cunts, Whirlywirld and various Ollie Olsen/John Murphy projects. Still, it's a pity the film itself is no good. Fact is, it's quite insufferably bad. Some friends of mine worked on the pic, two of them being Olsen and Murphy, and they're welcome to their own opinions on the project (I shouldn't speak for either, though I know that both see it as a flawed attempt to capture the spirit of the times, w/ Murphy's main complaint [and I'm recollecting this from a conversation in 1993] being that the film looks too much like 1986, not 1979). My beef w/ the pic is that the bulk of it seems to involve Hutchence - a nice fellow, from reports, regardless of how crap his musical career may've been - crawling around the floor of a grubby student sharehouse in between flicking the fringe from his eyes or spouting off some pretentious nonsense. There's also a few scenes of people shooting up and bands playing in the loungeroom. I think director Richard Lowenstein meant well, but meaning well sometimes isn't enough when it comes to creating an engaging piece of cinema. From all reports, Hutchence's management were scared to death that his starring in such an oddball feature film detailing the lives and music of a group of fringe artists was going to hurt his chances at international fame, but he went ahead nonetheless, believing in the project. Hooray for him. Again, I still wish the film was good. Upon viewing it as a 15-year-old, my first reaction was, Well, that ain't no Repo Man or Suburbia! Every half a decade or so since then, I'd rent it in the hopes of a reappraisal, and yet subsequent viewings have never changed my mind: the film is a thoroughly unengaging mess. But anyway, I rented it again this past week, if only to watch the second disc of special features. I returned the DVD last night, having not watched the film itself, though I'm happy to report that one of the documentaries regarding the film is worthy of your time: We're Livin' On Dog Food. It was made recently, and features the talking heads of some well-known folks: Roland S. Howard, Bruce Milne, Phillip Brophy, Ollie Olsen, members of the Primitive Calculators, Sam Sejavka (the person for whom Hutchence's character was based on), music writer Clinton Walker (one of the highlights), JAB's Bohdan (a man whose voice I grew up listening to on 3RRR), the famous designer and highly annoying Alannah Hill and more. I've heard a few of these stories before, either from some of the folks above or from other, older friends of mine who were on the scene (particularly at the infamous Crystal Ballroom, the venue of choice at the time), though it's all spliced together in an engaging way w/out devolving into a post-punk version of The Big Chill. For my two cents, it's a whole lot more entertaining than the film itself. There's some great early footage of Boys Next Door, before they or the band they morphed into were particularly any good, as well as scenes of the Young Charlatans (crucial early punkoid band featuring Olsen, Howard and others who would later go onto the Laughing Clowns and a later line-up of the Saints) and the godawful Ears, Sam Sejavka's outfit who held the rep as the worst band of their day. The sequences early on, where the participants list the crucial musical influences of the days before punk as "Punk" hit it big are interesting, mostly because they demonstrate how disaffected teenagers in the mid '70s - whether they were from Los Angeles, London or Madrid - were all listening to the same sounds (NY Dolls, Stooges, VU, Bowie, Roxy, Kraftwerk... you know the drill!). I'd recommend you watch Dogs In Space at least once in this lifetime - despite what I've said it still isn't without its charms - though We're Living On Dog Food is the better option.