Groundbreaking <I>A Boy and His Dog</I> Now on DVD3 Jan, 2004 By: Brendan Howard
You might not know his name, but you'd recognize L.Q. Jones' face. He's been a character actor in Westerns since the 1950s, with hundreds of credits in films and on TV to his name.
It's exactly the opposite with the only feature film Jones has directed: A Boy and His Dog.
The sci-fi film finally made its DVD debut recently from First Run Features at $24.95, with a commentary track from Jones, his cinematographer and a film critic, to boot.
Jones knows the film has been hard to find on VHS, and he reckons some of it is his doing.
“It's probably the picture that uses the widest scope of any picture I've ever seen,” he said. “We're working totally to the left, totally to the right. So whenever I had a chance, I undermined the efforts and kept it off [pan-and-scan] tape. We confused people enough when they could see 100 percent of the movie. What happens when we take away a quarter of the screen?”
Many sci-fi fans have heard of the film, about a young man (played by Don Johnson) in a post-apocalyptic world who's looking for food and women with the help of a telepathic dog.
With a strange plot synopsis like that -- especially in 1976, when it debuted -- it's clear that the film might appeal to a select audience, but that didn't hurt it in the right markets, especially college towns.
“We opened in Austin, Texas, in 1976, and we booked one house, and they said if you have any trouble [selling tickets], we're gonna have to pull you,” Jones said. “We ran a few midnight shows for free. We knew the college kids would have Friday and Saturday night off. They loved it. [When we start selling ticketed shows,] the crowd was around the block. They expected we'd stay one week, maybe two, but they had to open another theater, and we stayed for six weeks. In Seattle, in a 2,200-seat theater, we stayed there for a year.”
The film was released again in 1982. It was still doing so well in some theaters that Jones had to pry the old prints out of theater owners to give them new ones.
In the past seven years alone, Jones has had a hand in public showings on the big screen more than 100 times, making it clear that it's a labor of love.
Jones said he wanted a film that demanded active participation from audiences, who had to fill in the blanks, with the images and the audiences' imaginations telling the story when the dialogue is sparse.
Movie fans can see the impact the film's look and plot -- its bleak desert landscape, its educationally degenerate people in an ugly society -- had on later post-apocalyptic films, like the 1979-and-later “Mad Max” trilogy.
As happy as Jones was with A Boy and His Dog, it made him wary of directing again.
“I'm basically an actor. Directing is hard,” he said. “I averaged 22 hours a day for two years. If I were [director Stanley] Kubrick, I could probably do it in my sleep, but I had to really work at it.”