It’s been a long time coming but my DVD finally turned up yesterday (it’s not showing anywhere at a cinema near me and it was simultaneously released to DVD) so I gave it a whirl last night. Regular readers of this blog will know I was very excited at the prospect of this film. Public sex is my main area of research and dogging is not the typical subject of cinema. Most of the main media has included the film in their reviews over the last month or so and they seem to have been universally poor. Turns out they were fair as well as poor. The film lacked pace and the story quickly became muddled. It was trying to be many things and failed at most. Luke Treadaway,a fabulous actor, just didn’t really gel in the main role as Dan. Richard Riddell peaks in his read through of Dan’s story (you see it in the trailer where Dogging is described as ‘British’ as warm beer) but is generally over-acting his heart out and not getting laughs. The true star who comes out of it as a lovable, funny and interesting character is Jim played by Michael Sorcha. On the basis of this performance, one to watch.
So what about the depiction of dogging? Well it starts of well. The opening credits include footage that is drawn heavily on dogging porn and I thought it both clever and interesting. The fact they chose actual dogging locations in the North East was also an interesting move, the depiction of the role of the Internet was also good (although this got muddled with the IM thing). The vox pops in Newcastle city centre, in which members of the public are asked about dogging was also interesting but didn’t integrate into the film as well as they could. I’m not sure if these were ‘mock’ interviews or genuine. Anyone know?
When Dan is first taken dogging, we see the excitement and enthusiasm that can go with this phenomenon before he mistakenly approaches a steamed up car that has a family inside innocently eating a take-a-way. This was funny and had the ring of authenticity but the scene once again became muddled and then we had someone just walking into the space. Great idea blown by a script that needed a bit more work.
One of the interviewees talked about the Police spoiling his fun. It was a shame these themes weren’t then explored. The Police apart from one scene where Dan mentions sirens in the distance are not present in the film and so we get a skewed view of dogging. As the film evolves, dogging becomes viewed as something a bit sad, a bit pathetic and a bit of a mystery which throws away the earlier interesting perspectives and ideas. We even have a character who is a trainspotter turned dogger, keeping a notebook and writing down, well we don’t know what, and nobody objects, which is weird. No “what you writing mate?”, “you writing down my plates mate?” etc.
The final series of scenes revolve around a ‘big meet’, almost likening dogging to rave culture, with people secretly arranging to go to a distant rural venue (the lake district in this case – just past Kendal), and people run around openly and happily – the sophisticated tension we see earlier depicted is gone, a character we ordinarily meet as ‘normal’ is now cast as a dodgy weirdo whose life is ruined by a front page story. We are supposed to applaud the central character for doing this. Why? It makes no sense? It’s the final act that turns the film from a film that depicts dogging into a film that deliberately seeks to undermine and attack this social phenomenon, with no clear reason give other than it’s a ‘bit weird’.
Originally, I really wanted this film to work, but on the whole, it doesn’t. They would have done far better to take Daniel Davies’s 2008 novel, The Isle of Dogs and turned that into a film (the book was republished last year and can be bought here). That book does combine a good understanding of dogging with humour and some scenes of tension. The Police are also (rightly) a very real element.
I think this is not a consequence of a talent shortage but rather (as Ellis suggests below), a lack of support. I understand the film had difficulty being made and this is probably reflected in the end result. Below, you can see the film’s Director, Simon Ellis discuss the film: