When I was a kid, my grandmother recorded a documentary for me on VHS about dogs. Grandma didn’t know that what she actually recorded wasn’t so much a documentary as a bizarre milieu of reenactments, staged scenes and ridiculous personal dog stories – almost exclusively from a town in Australia called Mossman. This documentary is bonker butts. I can’t stress that enough. For years I would describe what I only knew from childhood as “the doggy tape” to people and no one believed it actually existed. I’d say “there’s a reenactment scene of a pelican kidnapping a chihuahua and the chihuahua plays itself!” While this description was too much for people to believe, the actual scene is much weirder and more beautiful than I could ever convey.
After years of searching, I found it. tHe WOnDerfUl WOrLd oF DOGS.
It’s a documentary by Mark Lewis. He’s some sort of deranged animal-based libertarian documentarian judging by his only other documentary, Cane Toads (which is almost as batshit as tWWOD.) Let me tell you, nothing I can say will do this film justice. But seeing as it’s only streaming on one obscure site and costs money, I’ll try my best. (Also, many humans in the film are not introduced by name so I’ll refer to them by their relationship to dogs.)
The most prevalent storytelling methods in The Wonderful World Of Dogs seem to fall into three categories: Interviews with reenactments, staged scenes, and vendettas.
For a non-crime-based documentary, this film sure has a LOT of reenactments. And boy, do they deliver on drama. The best reenactment is the saga of Pebbles, the chihuahua who may or may not have been kidnapped by a pelican. When we first see lil’ Pebbles, she’s expertly extracting and chomping down on the patty from a big mac. Pebbles is a chunky lil’ doggie for her exceptionally tiny size. Her eyes are big and round and blank as hell. So cute. Pebbles’ owner looks and sounds like what we Americans think a British nanny looks and sounds like. Said owner lists various human foods Pebbles likes, explaining that her chihuahua probably loves spicy food because she’s Mexican.
This is when our harrowing story starts. Pebbles’ owner says they were on holiday at a beach when people started warning her not to let the dog down near “the pelicans.” Her fear is palpable. She claims pelicans have kidnapped and flown away with chihuahuas in the past and we get a glorious close up on Pebbles dubbed with a fearful gulp sound effect. Pebbles’ helicopter mom says of the pelicans, “They would’ve taken her, she’s so little, they would’ve taken her!” And we fade into a beautiful reenactment. I can’t stress enough how well shot this is. Pebbles’ mom and Pebbles play themselves. There’s twilight zone-esque royalty free music, a nefarious gang of real pelicans, a pelican puppet CARRYING PEBBLES OVER A BACKDROP OF THE SKY and dropping her on the beach as her owner sobs– basically everything you could possibly want in a pelican-kidnap-based reenactment. It’s shot like the most harrowing crime recreation you’d find on Investigation Discovery. You just have to see it. You have to fucking see it. (By the way, it’s not even clear whether or not Pebbles’ mom believes this DID happen or just that it could have happened.)
Other reenactments include (but are not limited to): a British woman who picked wild mushrooms and served them at a dinner party while her dog barked like mad. The dog finally eats the mushrooms and dies to demonstrate the dangers of their food (since the dog is dead it is played by an actor.) The Brits get their stomachs pumped.
There’s a reenactment of the time George Bush Sr’s staff had two dogs shot on a runway so his plane could land, because of course they did. I know they didn’t shoot the dogs in this reenactment. Right? One of them is just playing dead? I only ask because the makers of The Wonderful World of Dogs seem willing to do anything for their art.
Another interview/reenactment features a mailman whose dog-related trauma seems very real. You can feel his fear as he describes these big yard dogs dog-calling him like he’s a piece of meat. Obviously the filmmakers have this poor beleaguered mailman reenact being attacked by a dog. This ends with a close up shot of his glasses falling onto the pavement, a trope most movies save for, like, death. I don’t know if the mailman received therapy after this.
Some of the staged scenes in The Wonderful World Of Dogs could also be considered reenactments and/or are part of the two prominent vendettas in the film. So I’ll discuss some of the staged scenes that seem more like filler? Color? I don’t know but they’re glorious. “Street dogs” are shooed away by citizens who just happen to be standing there at the right time, yelling PERSONAL INSULTS at the dogs. These “street dogs” are wearing collars. One steals from a butcher shop. I’ve thought about these scenes a lot, because if someone said “I’m going to make a documentary about dogs” you’d think they were just going to film dogs’ natural behavior. Getting multiple dogs to conform to a storyboard seems like a lot. But Mark Lewis had a vision. He had the dogs. And he had some random Australians stand in the street to yell insults at the dogs.
A bulldog lover whose house is littered with porcelain bulldogs even the kitchiest grandma would find tacky is interviewed with his current bulldog. She’s jowly and jittery, the best combination. The dog is constantly trying to jump off his lap and, I think, eat the camera? Her owner explains that his droopy lil’ bullsnort loves to attack a particular TV news host and turns it on to demonstrate. The bulldog attacks the TV with lust and vigor the likes of which you’ve never seen.
A gentle looking brunette woman explains that her poodle, Kisses, showers with her. She showers with Kisses to demonstrate. She has no qualms about being nude on camera (props to her) but I guess none of the dogs do either.
Also, because it’s the late 80s/early 90s, she has the same hair as her poodle. They use the same shampoo.
They own matching outfits. Nobody let this lady have a daughter! After the shower we are treated to a poodle fashion show.
The bulldog and poodle scenes are more like demonstrations of dog behavior under proper conditions, whereas other staged scenes are definitely just, uh, scenes. Like, scripted scenes, but in a documentary and starring dogs.
For example, a very scripted scene shows a lovely young couple saying “Goodbye! Be good!” to their stubby (Australian cattle dog mix?) doggie before they go out, after which the dog promptly destroys everything and sets fire to the house with Christmas lights.
My favorite staged scene is something else entirely. It involves two large, lean brown dogs fucking over porn music. It’s dubbed by HUMANS panting and grunting. There are doggie style POV shots just like in real porn. Are we supposed to view this like real porn? How many people were involved in making this? Is it some sort of crime? What did the filmmakers do to get the dogs fucking on camera? Asking questions of a Mark Lewis documentary is pointless, but I do it anyway because I feel dirty. The proper way to watch this film is just to bask in the bizarre. Let it wash over you. Let yourself feel every moment of this filthy fuckfest:
The Wonderful World of Dogs features two prominent vendettas. One is between Mossman City Councilman Screwby and a German Shorthaired Pointer named Fugly. The other is between a woman in Mossman and dog poop. These vendettas are long, drawn out, and filled with way more rage than any of us could expect. In fact, the Saga Of Fugly takes up most of the film. I’ll touch on the finer points of these longstanding grudges, starting with dog poo lady.
A middle aged woman in her very ’80s kitchen sits at a typewriter that’s presumably only been used to write angry letters. Her blue eyeliner matches her blue typewriter which matches her blue shirt and blue porcelain babies. If she believes blue is calming, it’s not working. She smokes a cigarette mournfully and tells a chilling tale about dogs pooping on the city-owned patch of grass in front of her house. That’s right, the dogs aren’t even pooping on her property. From the lengths she’s gone to in order to stop them, you’d think the dogs of Mossman spread their floppy doggie buttcheeks and laid a fat poo directly in her mouth.
Some of the methods she says she’s used to stop dogs pooping on the grass are:
- Calling the city council
- Calling the sanitation department
- Calling the parks department
- Calling the sanitation department again
- Cayenne pepper (she pronounces it canine pepper in some sort of Freudian slip, the dogs have taken her mind, nothing lives there but the dogs.)
- Moth balls
- Ammonia (how is the grass still alive?)
- Teriyaki sticks in the ground
- Calling the city council again
- Chemical laden water bottles (They work for a bit, but humans destroyed them- I’m guessing local dogs got sick or something.)
- Asking the city council to let her replace the grass with concrete (they say no.)
This woman also voices over the end credits to complain, once more, about the dog poop.
By far the most prominent story in this film is the saga of Councilman Screwby and Fugly (as far as I could hear, and believe me I kept rewinding to make sure, this IS the dog’s name.)
Fugly is a dog who escapes from his home to roam the town and make friends. He’s a very friendly brown and white dog whose jowls bounce and collar jingles when he walks. Other than knocking over the occasional trash can, the charges against Fugly seem to just be ‘roaming without a leash’ which, granted, is dangerous for Fugly himself (despite the mayor of Mossman claiming he saw Fugly press the button to use a crosswalk. There’s a staged scene of this because of course there is.)
We see interviews with owners of various shops where Fugly spends his days including a tire shop that hides him when the dog catcher is called (the dog catcher also loves Fugly and regrets caging him on so many occasions).
City councilman Screwby, however, is not pleased. Sitting calmly in his very beige office, it seems like he’s trying to cultivate the image of a reasonable man who does NOT call the dog catcher on a single dog every day. A man who does not troll the streets day and night, looking for his one doggie nemesis. Perhaps he is a reasonable man. Maybe this documentary is biased in Fugly’s favor. Screwby’s interviews are so perfectly poised, yet so perfectly insane. Screwby talks about Fugly like he would an actual criminal. Seriously, you have to watch him talk about this dog.
Most glaringly, The Wonderful World of Dogs teaches you ABSOLUTELY NOTHING ABOUT DOGS. Not from a biological standpoint, breeding, training, behavior, rescue, or um, anything. But if nothing else, this film lives up to its name. I can’t tell you how wonderful it is to watch this perfectly demented piece of cinema. I tried to tell you. I wrote a whole thing. You just read it. But I can’t fully describe it all. You have to watch this shit.