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Review: The Dirties – “A brattish blast of punkoid brilliance”

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If we imagine modern film as being roughly where music was in the mid-70s, then the equivalents of that era’s engorged sauropods of rock are surely uber-producers like Thomas Tull and their apparatchiks.

Super-rich coneheads who like to constantly remind us how smart they are, how smart the people they choose to work with are, and how smart the things are that all these smart people come up with when they put their planet-sized brains together.

Because you need to be smart to make movies, right? In order to understand smart stuff like emerging overseas markets, multi-platform marketing opportunities, and so on and so on.

And if you’re not smart (and, in all likelihood, rich, white and a man), you should stick to marvelling at all the marvellous pictures spewed up by these supreme intelligences, and forget any hare-brained ideas you might have about making your own. Look, yes – but don’t you dare touch.

Hmm, what’s that?

If these gurus of bigger-is-better movie-making are so darn smart, how come something like Godzilla plays out as dumb and dull as one of Irwin Allen’s much-lampooned cereal box disaster epics of decades gone by?

Listen buddy, two things.

First, you might have some hifalutin idea of what ‘cinema’ is, but what you’re not smart enough to understand is that if you want a picture to open, it’s gotta be accessible.

Second, fuck you, you yoghurt-eating asshole.

But hey, hold on. Let’s humour the poor deluded dairy-guzzlers amongst us for just a minute longer. Because if we continue our earlier analogy, then we find The Dirties arriving pumped full of the same gonzo energy the Ramones spunked all over the ‘70s music scene. This isn’t just a film – it’s a sledgehammer swinging at the whole stinking charade of pop culture idolatry.

It’s a hurricane of fresh air fired up the arse-crack of every cash-soaked exercise in cardboard predictability that gets passed off as the mutt’s nuts in movie-land from one week to the next. Just the first five minutes instantly feel fresher than anything you’ll have clapped eyes on in aeons. Same as La Haine did, same as Joachim Trier’s Reprise, and same as – yes, I’m going to bloody say it – Pulp Fiction. There.

Hailing from Canada and made for the kind of piddling small change that’d just about buy you a latte and a brownie in Costa (well, about $30k actually, a decent wedge of which went on music rights), The Dirties is the gloriously unruly offspring of a young filmmaking collective captained by Matt Johnson, who serves as the movie’s director, co-producer, co-writer, co-editor and leading man.

Johnson plays Matt and his film school buddy Owen Williams takes the other starring role of – you guessed it – Owen. The pair are high schoolers making a movie about the gang of meathead bullies who torment them, the titular Dirties.

Using a part-scripted/part-docu-style approach that incorporates hidden shooting (including five days undercover in a real school), The Dirties essentially offers a film-within-a-film-within-a-film, meaning it not so much blurs the line between truth and fiction as utterly obliterates it, giving rise to something strange, unique and real in the process.

Frequently hilarious too; Johnson demonstrated a flair for comedy with his online series, Nirvana the Band the Show, and the humour here mostly comes from his self-named onscreen alter-ego, a reference-vomiting, goggle-eyed whirlwind of naïve charm and undiagnosed psychosis.

In contrast, Williams (whose real-life day job is as a high school English teacher) serves as the anchor stopping his effervescent co-star from floating away, while at the same time injecting necessary humanity into the narrative.

The Dirties picked up the Grand Jury Prize at last year’s Slamdance Film Festival, as well as the Spirit of Slamdance Award, and it’s easy to understand why. This is a movie which awakens you to the possibilities of the medium all over again. It makes you believe you can do it yourself, and it rips away your excuses for not doing so. It’s a triumph, a challenge and a call to arms, all in one brattish blast of punkoid brilliance.

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