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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

DOGS IN SPACE


This is a really peculiar film. One can say that about pretty much anything Australian though. Not to say that's a bad thing, it's a country isolated from many influences which means they do things however they see fit and damn the torpedoes. It's kind of like the American midwest only an entire country- having grown up in North Dakota from age 3 & 1/2 until 20, my cohorts and I definitely had our own art aesthetic which was viewed through what we affectionately dubbed the "midwest filter". As the "Australian filter" is also a very very real thing, lots of weird movies that nowhere else in the world could ever manage to think up sprang upon us from this land down under. This movie is an example of this phenomenon.

Trailer:


By now you have no doubt noticed that I did a massive sequence of run on sentences. You may also have noticed that this film stars none other than lead singer of INXS Michael Hutchence. Now in comes a problem. I can't actually give you a plot synopsis because this movie does not actually have a plot. It has a very loose one actually so I will give you an all too brief go at it okay? It takes place in Australia in 1978. There's a punk band called Dogs In Space (based on a real life band called The Ears) that lives in a ratty ass squat house. There's lots of weird and good music playing everywhere. That's about all I will say because I'd have to tell you EVERYTHING that happens in the movie because very little of it is related in a standard plot type sense and is instead composed of day to day happenings like real life. If I saw this as a teenager, I'd probably think it was the most brilliant movie ever made ever.

Now don't get me wrong, this movie isn't bad, but when you start to get into the nuts and bolts of the backstory (by this I mean the Australian "little band" scene in which it takes place) things unravel a little bit, at least for me they did. I guess I should expand on what the whole little bands thing is, as least as far as I can because I only know a very little bit (no pun intended). It centered around Melbourne Australia in the late seventies until the early 80's (it was strongest here, but also was going on in other places as well). It was an underground scene of electronics and non rock instrumentation, very much like punk everywhere else. If the essay on the back of the Dogs In Space soundtrack lp is to be believed, there is a unique difference between the little bands and punk.

I will give you an exact quote off of the lp jacket:

"Punk in Australia, unlike England, wasn't a politicized working-class push. Rather, in Melbourne particularly, it was predominantly middle-class: Intelligent, educated kids rejected the relatively rosy options the middle-class made available to them (unless they side-stepped the issue by studying) and consciously chose to go on the dole and do whatever it was they wanted to do. And mostly, what that was revolved around music somehow."


This is pretty well opposed to what punk stood for in the UK (at least initially). Basically that paragraph leads me to believe that a bunch of kids who weren't that bad off decided to slum it and make art by choice rather than out of necessity. Whether that is the case or not I cannot readily say, but out here in Washington State we call people like that "trust fund kids"- ie kids who shop exclusively at Goodwill (which is actually quite pricey now by the way) and act like they are broke so they can "fit in" with all the people who actually ARE poor. I really hope that paragraph isn't how the whole scene was, because it basically makes them out to be a right load of pretentious asswipes. Britain in the mid to late 70's was not a happy place to be. People didn't choose to be on the dole there, they had to just to survive. The sociopolitical climate of Britain was frightening to say the least. Punk was hopefully a way to change things (how much it achieved this is still open for debate), not a way for kids with an option to have a laugh (of course that still wound up happening anyway).

I dunno, willingly going on the dole doesn't really strike me as subversive, instead it strikes me as lazy. In fact it is Hutchence's character that seems to really exhibit this tendency to be a right prat. Besides his obnoxious slinking about, drug doing, and making his girlfriend pay for beersing, there's a point where his mum drops by and gives him a huge platter of food which without looking up at her he devours and complains about how there isn't a drink as she says he can come back home. His mum is super nice, there is no mention of him having an abusive home life or anything. He's basically just a big asshole, oh sorry, I meant "cool kid". Believe it or not, if you go into downtown Olympia you'll actually see people like this slinking around each and every day. It makes me ill.

The music is what really makes this movie worth it to me. Certain elements of the story are endearing yes, but music is what this movie is really about. Unfortunately, some bits of music in the film are from the years after 1978 as are some plot elements. There's a big to-do for some of the house kids when they find out that Skylab (America's first space station) is going to reenter the Earth's atmosphere and a radio station is offering a reward to the first person who brings in a piece. The only problem with this is Skylab didn't reenter until 1979- lots of you will say pish about that but facts are facts and I LOVE outer space history so sod off. I'd say the movie is definitely worth a watch or several so if you see it don't hesitate as it's rather hard to find on the loose in absence of a Region 1 DVD release (note: it is available on DVD in Australia so if you have a region free player and are really hellbent, go search ebay).

Back to the subject of the music right? The soundtrack for the movie is pretty damn good. There are unfortunately two different versions: one edited of foul language and one with the foul language intact and rude sound samples in between some songs. While I own the US pressing of the lp (which is edited by the way, booooo) I just so happen to have the two missing songs and whatnot in a file you can have. I know how you buggers really fancy free shit, so if you want it simply click here to get it. There's some real rippers on there, so get ready. The two unedited songs are in their correct places in the tracklist, while the edited "instrumental" versions are placed at the end. Enjoy!

I can recommend the soundtrack highly, but I recommend the film with some reservations. It's not that I don't like it (I went out of my way to own a copy after seeing it the first time didn't I?), I just want a little bit more than what I got. What that is eludes me but that being said some of you out there will really dig on this pretty well unknown (outside of Australia at least) gem. I do think the film deserves more attention than it gets and maybe will one day get a DVD release (outside of expensive bootleg copies dubbed off of vhs) stateside so it can finally get mass exposure. While yes that is a bit of a pipe dream, stranger things have happened. This movie was only released in the US by Key Video, and this is not the only rareish Key tape to not be put on DVD. Much like The Legend Of Billie Jean (also released by Key Video) this movie might sadly be relegated to over priced, poor quality bootlegs and increasingly worn and rare vhs for the foreseeable (and likely indefinite) future. If you wonder how uncommon this tape is, note the sticker on my rental copy. They probably had to keep it behind the counter to prevent some dickweed from legging off with it. One wonders if the store had it happen to them once before to make such a move necessary, we will never know...

Like I said before, if you see it for rent or even on the cheap, give it a watch, it's really pretty neat despite my misgivings about certain bits.

3 comments:

  1. "If I saw this as a teenager, I'd probably think it was the most brilliant movie ever made ever."

    Nailed it! When I watched this recently myself, I too found myself more than a little annoyed by the Michael Hutchence character. Of course, when I was 18, I thought he was awesome. Fortunately, not awesome enough to emulate that lifestyle...

    Not to hijack your post, but folks who really love the soundtrack might be interested in the expanded version I put together which features all of the music used in the film. Ten bonus tracks in total (including the two "Instrumental" versions):

    http://p-l-m.blogspot.com/2009/01/dogs-in-space-expanded-1986.html

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  2. His download is tight, fuckshit endorses the above link.

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  3. The film starts in 1978 but covers a longer period of time. I was confused about the historical accuracy of it, like you, until I realised this. Also, i think your point about Hutchence's character is entirely accurate - he is a jerk - but of course he's meant to be. A lot of the film is concerned with his self-centred ambition. I love that about the film.

    I think your comparison with english and US punk is a little troublesom. After all, the Bromley Contingent were a huge part of the development of British punk from early on and Bromley is one of the most affluent suburbs of London - I think it's a bit simplistic to suggest punk was a working class movement anywhere. So, if you're from a middle class background and want to 'express yourself', what do you do? Shut up because that's only for the poor? In any case I think once again Dogs in Space doesn't shy away from the reality. Australian punk and post punk had working and middle class participants, perhaps part of the point was the ability to recreate oneself outside those limiting definitions.

    Thirdly, the no-plot thing: it certainly doesn't have a conventional plot. But once you appreciate that it takes place over a few years (the film's greatest weakness, in my opinion, is that it doesn't make this time span clear) you can see some story arcs.

    I'm biased. It's one of my favourite films. I hated it the first time I saw it and for various reasons I've watched it many (8? 9?) times over the last twenty years. It literally gets better every time. And it is best seen in widescreen.

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