Saturday, October 18, 2008

A Boy and His Dog

"A Boy and His Dog" (L.Q. Jones, 1975) L.Q. Jones is most well-known as a quirky character actor, usually playing rangy, seedy types for the likes of Sam Peckinpah--he was part of Peckinpah's stock company--and Robert Altman--he played the character based on Chet Atkins in Altman's last film, "A Prairie Home Companion."

But in 1975, he also directed a low-budget high-concept picture based on a classic sci-fi story written by
Harlan Ellison. The story, "Blood's a Rover,"* tells the story of a young adult male in a post-apocalyptic world whose only companion is a telepathic dog, or "Rover," named "Blood." Blood sniffs out food and women for Vic to attack, reads minds, and communicates telepathically with "Vic." It's a bizarre story with an odd little twist, and is one of Ellison's best-known tales.

The film Jones made of it is satiric, savage, sassy, and right on the edge of burlesque as Vic (a very young, pre-"Miami Vice" Don Johnson, and his pooch(voiced by Tim McIntire) roam the post-nuclear countryside that bears a passing resemblance to the world of "Mad Max,"** with mutants and squalor. At one point, Vic is lured by one of his female conquests to an underground society of American nostalgists led by Jason Robards, who appear to have stepped right out of the River City, Iowa of "The Music Man,"*** except for the deranged robots, goon squads, and the man-milking machines (the society is sterile). Vic must make a choice between this semblance of civilization and the scorched-earth policies above ground.

Ellison's attitude towards it is rather strange, initially saying that it was a good adaptation, but then turning on it as mysoginistic (especially for its gut-crunching last line). An odd sentiment from the story's creator as that is all reflected in his yarn in the first place. And yet Ellison has gone on and produced sequels to the original story without any attempt to disown the political incorrectness of the original. I guess he felt Jones was too blase about subjects Ellison had second thoughts about. Still, Jones' vision of a post holocaust nuclear society has stayed relevent for decades--as the poster says "it's a future you may live to see!"

* Taken from a line from A.E. Housman's "A Shropshire Lad"

** Jones' post-apocalyptic garage-sale look preceded "Mad Max" by three years, and "The Road Warrior," which it resembles by five years.

***All of these residents are heavily made-up in what I thought at the time was clown make-up, but I realize now is reflective of the look of rosey-cheeked painted-over family portraits. The undergrounders are heavily made-up to compensate for the lack of sun.

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