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“A Boy And His Dog” envisioned a tasteless dystopia

Saturday, February 8, 4070 Vilas Hall, 7 p.m., free. Info

Being the adventures of a libidinous young man (Don Johnson) whose principal interests are eating food and getting laid as he roams the devastated ruins of Phoenix, Arizona, in the aftermath of World War IV with his cynical, overeducated, telepathic canine companion, L.Q. Jones’ 1975 post-apocalyptic science-fiction cult feature, A Boy And His Dog, is possibly the greatest popcorn movie ever made. Based on the award-winning 1969 novella by Harlan Ellison and set in the year 2024, A Boy And His Dogbilled as “an R-rated, rather kinky tale of survival”—imagines a bleak future in which sometimes literally toxic, masculine marauders compete for provisions while committing savage acts of rape and ultraviolence. An acknowledged source of inspiration for George Miller’s dystopian action film franchise Mad Max, Jones’ movie also feels like a crude, campy send-up of A Clockwork Orange (1971). Indeed, the trailer was made in the same style as the trailer for Stanley Kubrick’s film.

When Vic (Johnson) and his dog Blood (Tiger) visit a makeshift movie theater exhibiting the scratchy, distorted remnants of porn films, Blood sniffs out a female in disguise, Quilla June Holmes (Susanne Benton), who seduces the boy after he attempts to violate her sexually. Thus Vic plunges headlong into a subterranean world of grotesque small-town American pageantry, strictly enforced fundamentalist Christian values, and nefarious plots for mechanized procreation. A Boy And His Dog‘s disgusting and misogynistic dystopia will understandably drive some viewers away, but Jones creates a coherent, nightmarish alternative universe that frequently veers into absurdity, yet compels respect for its witty writing, well-paced direction, and offbeat black humor.

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The dog’s performance as Blood and the weird space-age bachelor pad music, featuring contributions from The Doors keyboardist Ray Manzarek, are worth the price of admission (though this UW Cinematheque screening is free). Irreverent, outrageous, titillating and terrifying, A Boy And His Dog presents a bizarre, bitter vision of “a future you’ll probably live to see,” as the tagline warns us. In depicting the spiritual wasteland of American society, Jones certainly had marvelous foresight, if not particularly good taste.

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