FilmEye: Wiener-Dog by Todd Solondz

Notes on cinema inspired by historical images by Dan Williams


Your companion

Wiener-Dog is the latest film from controversial independent film-maker Todd Solondz, whose work has regularly shocked audiences with sardonic comedy and disturbing subject matter.

So what happens when he places a sausage dog at the centre of his story.  In fact the cute dachshund links four stories, and in effect occupies the hero position in the narrative, without speaking, or achieving a heroic rescue of his master (as was the case, memorably, in that warm-hearted comedy ‘The Artist’).

Wiener-Dog is stately, detached, a prisoner of circumstance, and is rewarded with his own montage style intermission sequence (disrupting the narrative illusion) and a rousing theme tune.

The dachshund certainly suffers surrounded by a dysfunctional collection of human beings. However, he is also a counter point to their endless anxieties and despair; and benefits sporadically from empathy, kindness and solidarity.

So, Solondz is following a tradition, where at last we get down to shin level, and see the world differently, with the dog given a temporary state of independent existence.

 

The Totonac civilization. Mural by Diego Rivera. Dog. National Palace Mexico City. ©Haruko Sheridan/Ancient Art & Architecture Collection

The Totonac civilization. Mural by Diego Rivera. Dog. National Palace Mexico City.
©Haruko Sheridan/Ancient Art & Architecture Collection

 

 

Your protector

Sometimes, dogs are scary, their symbolism and stateliness wrought from their ferocity.

This is never the case with wiener-dog, the eponymous protagonist of Solondz’s movie. He is the playmate of a lonely child, and then after escaping a savage reprisal for their destruction of  bourgeois decorum he is liberated and adopted by gawky Dawn Wiener, the vet’s assistant, played by Greta Gerwig, in understated style.

 

A big dog or mastiff, Watchdog from Apadana of Persepolis. Achaemenid period. 5th century BC. Persia.Teheran Bastan Museum, Iran. ©Ronald Sheridan/Ancient Art & Architecture Collection

A big dog or mastiff, Watchdog from Apadana of Persepolis. Achaemenid period. 5th century BC. Persia.Teheran Bastan Museum, Iran.
©Ronald Sheridan/Ancient Art & Architecture Collection

 

 

Your playmate

Dogs have always been represented through their contribution to human adventures and hunting.

However, in Wiener-Dog, heroism itself is deconstructed through the totally deadbeat figure of a film professor, played by Danny DeVito, struggling with futility and surrounded by shallowness in the film-making school.

Solondz shows how the dog is given different roles and identities, but is mainly taken for granted, by the sad and disturbed protagonists, a strangely successful platform for absurd humour.

If you are a dog lover, approach the film with caution, but rest assured Wiener-Dog is the hero.

 

Roman mosaic showing hunting dog. Sousse, 2nd-4th cent. AD.TUNISIA ©Ronald Sheridan/Ancient Art & Architecture Collection Ltd.

Roman mosaic showing hunting dog. Sousse, 2nd-4th cent. AD.TUNISIA
©Ronald Sheridan/Ancient Art & Architecture Collection Ltd.

 


News!

Dan’s new film study class ‘Introduction to British Cinema’ will start at WEA from the New Year (2017).
The course is for everyone with an interest in cinema who would like to study the subject in greater depth.
https://enrolonline.wea.org.uk/Online/2016/CourseInfo.aspx?r=C2418766