Our existence has been forged by existential questions that have plagued humankind since we first had time separated from being chased by things that wanted to eat us. Physical respite from attack granted us temporal space to luxuriate in the cerebral pursuits that gnawed at times even more deeply. Our ancient ancestors would sit in their caves, warmed by the campfire, wondering what it all meant: What is our role in the universe? Can meaning be made out of chaos? Is art merely trivium or is it the reason for being, setting us apart from our animal natures? How many roads must we walk down before truly becoming human?
The question above all, the quandary that left people puzzled for the entirety of our existence:
“Who let the dogs out?”
From the dark outside the cave would call an answer:
“Woof. Woof. Woof. Woof. Woof.”
Tens of thousands of years later, in a film that runs merely an hour of Earth time, Brent Hodge’s profound film traces philosopher/sage/powerpoint presenter/obsessive Ben Sisto’s rumination upon this immortal question of canine escapism. We follow from the most famous declaration of this query, the Baha Men’s Grammy Award-winning dance track whose stuttering rhythms and infectious nonsensibility managed upon its mid-2000 release to define an entire millennium that it helped usher in.
Sisto’s Homeric task is to work backwards in order to help us with our present and future. Dissatisfied with what the ancients would have written on holy scrolls and now exist in the form of publicly editable wikipedia entries about one-hit-wonder pop ephemera, Sisto was appalled at the obvious gaps in the telling of the story of this origins of this “Who Let the Dogs Out?” ditty. Throughout the clarion call would echo in his ears – Who let the dogs out? Woof. Woof. Woof. Woof. – fueling his quest as he dove into songs like Anselm Douglas’ 1998 Carnivale hit “Doggie”, or Jonathan King’s version recorded under “Fat Jakk and his Pack of Pets”.
Delving deeper Sisto is talismanic guide for Hodge and the audience, bringing us along a river ride of ideas and inspiration, where DJs and music producers each lay claim to this illustrious hook. The approach by these intrepid filmmakers and truth seekers is dogged, their sniffing out of sounds that connect as deeply as any element in the zeitgeist. The chant at the core of the track is soon seen to be seen as something bordering on the immortal, refusing to be chained in one location and wishing to free itself from its humble prison in the backyard. Sisto and Hodge, fundamentally, let the very idea of “who let the dogs out?” from its intellectual cage, allowing it to run free from the strictures of our own limitations.
On a base level Hodge’s film is an exemplar of how a deep dive can both energize and refresh, reminding that the most silly of things can in fact provide supreme enjoyment. On a hyperbolic level, this film is the most important philosophical examination of our time, making explicit how our culture that relies upon notions like ownership and authorship is subsumed by our collectivist nature, whereby even the most original ideas is merely a locus with the constellation of conversations of ideas, and only through the vagaries of commerce and conflict do such things coalesce into individuality. We are part of a pack, this film teaches us, and while the lone alphas try to take credit and fight along the way, we are warmed as a whole by being part of a larger project called human.
It’s perhaps implausible that an hour long documentary about an infectious musical motif within a bouncy musical track would rise to the level that the ancient philosophers would bow with supplicative awe, yet here we are. The movie, as is our existence, is a dog’s breakfast of questions with nary an answer that satisfies, exemplifying the ephemeral and contradictory nature of the species that evolved to ponder such things in the first place. Above all other creatures on this tiny rock in a middling part of an even more unremarkable galaxy we alone cry into the void by howling “Who Let the Dogs out?” Ours is not to despair at the lack of resolution, to be able to parse the barks that sound in return in ways we can come to consensus about. Instead, we must revel in our ability to seek to be seeking in and of itself, the “woofs” we hear echo back to us a reminder of all we cannot know anything for certain save uncertainty, comforted only that at least something out there far beyond our comprehension hears our query and echoes back with a rhythmic response. It thus proves the Cartesian notion: to be barked at is to be.
Thus we are further left with the fact that Who Let The Dogs Out is not only the most important film of our lifetime, but perhaps the most important expression of our intrinsic drive to question that the human experiment of all time. It is as fundamental as the first cry of a child entering this world, a clarion call that declares we are here, we are alive, we want to know where the dogs went and just who was responsible for their escape.
Screenings:Thursday, May 2, 9:30 PM @ TIFF Bell Lightbox
Friday, May 3, 6:30 PM @ Hart House Theatre
Sunday, May 5, 9:30 PM @ TIFF Bell Lightbox
FROM AROUND THE WEB