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June 9, 2005

Spinning Tales

From: CBC British Columbia, Canada - Jun 9, 2005

Mike Dowse’s new fake bio, It’s All Gone Pete Tong, lampoons DJ culture

By Katrina Onstad
June 9, 2005

Does anyone enjoy being teased? A good sport, if such a thing exists, is likely to keep teeth gritted and endure a mental tickling, but no one really likes to be the butt of a joke.

Mike Dowse, the 31-year-old writer-director of the classic hoser comedy Fubar (2002) and the new tragicomic — but mostly comic — film about a deaf DJ, It’s All Gone Pete Tong, is a professional tease. Hence, it seems appropriate to ask him to clarify a few things, all derived from press materials or on-record articles. Over the phone from New York, where he is promoting Tong to the American press (it received largely excellent reviews), he endures a mini-interrogation:

Do you have an MBA from Yale? “No, I just hate writing bios, so I put that in. It was one of those jokes that backfired. My mother was horrified. I couldn’t even spit on Yale.”

On the set of Fubar, did one of the headbangers get his hair caught in a meat slicer? “Not that I recall.”

Do you live in Montreal with four cats, two dogs and six children? “I do live in Montreal. No pets. My first kid is on the way.” Without sounding too sincere, Dowse adds: “Sorry. I’m a jerk.”

That’s not exactly true, either. Dowse speaks in a deep voice, swears often and has a low-watt don’t-care-what-you-think-of-me attitude, though he somehow remains likeable. It’s not surprising that he is, thus far, best known for making mockumentaries. The fake documentary — generally a study of clueless characters who have no idea how clueless they are — is a genre that feels a little played out in the 21 years since the seminal This Is Spinal Tap. Canada, particularly, has contributed to the glut with features like The Delicate Art of Parking and, on TV, The Newsroom and Trailer Park Boys.

“I would describe Tong more as a fake bio-piece,” says Dowse. “There aren’t any first-person interviews with the main characters. For me, it’s a stepping stone completely away from the mockumentary genre, which is tired.”

Tired, maybe, but why so popular? Perhaps mockumentaries appeal to Canadians because real docs are such a famous and sometimes laborious Canadian export. Dowse has a simpler explanation: cheapness.

“You can do a lot with a little money and people will understand it, and people really like that tone of humour. Irreverence, hyper irreverence. It’s a way of being able to do voiceover without having to do voiceover and that allows you very direct insight into your main characters. But I realize now that you can still have that tone and not have the fake doc structure. Tong would be just as funny without the fake stuff.”

It’s All Gone Pete Tong is the “biography” of DJ Frankie Wilde, toast of Ibiza, the Spanish isle of club-kid excess. Wilde is played by British actor Paul Kaye with cocaine-encrusted nostrils and teeth like a package of yellow Chiclets crushed beneath a heel. Here’s a four-step guide to the film’s premise: (1) Wilde is fictional; (2) there is a real-life DJ called Pete Tong, who is one of the film’s many talking heads — some real, some Dowse’s creation — who comment on Wilde’s rise and fall; (3) the title of the movie comes from a Cockney expression meaning “it’s all gone wrong,” which has nothing to do with DJs; (4) ha ha on you.

The cosmic irony is that Wilde goes deaf (“years and years of noise was the basis of his problem,” explains one pundit, helpfully) and hits a Brian Wilson low, turning bearded bushman in a pillow-padded room on his estate, before slowly re-emerging — he learns to feel the beats with his feet — to a different version of his life. In both Tong and Fubar — a tag-along with two Alberta metal-head best friends, one of whom “loses a nut” to testicular cancer — Dowse wanders into subcultures that rarely warrant investigation, let alone compassion, and finds unlikely heroes who suffer physically for their hedonism.

“Disease is plot in a bottle, is what it is,” says Dowse. “You just do the worst possible thing to your main character and you can sustain a story for 90 minutes. And I love characters that aren’t really limited by morals at all. They’re a lot more fun to write.”

Dowse was brought to Tong by two British producers who were Fubar fans. They had the title, the money and an idea of teenagers loosed on the island. “The story was terrible and they knew it,” says Dowse.

Though not a clubber himself, he wrote a tightly honed script, abandoning the improvisation of Fubar, a film that sprang from a mere three-page outline. The Ibiza shoot was two-and-a-half months of searing heat with a crew surrounded by sunbathers and Ecstasy.

“It’s a crazy place to try and do a job. Everybody there is just off their face, so the temptation is quite high. We lost our line producer,” says Dowse. “He’d been badly hiding an addiction problem and literally showed up f----- off his face on coke and then just continued going. It was pretty funny. To do the last draft of the script, [the two of us] had gone out on a bender, and in the middle of that bender, we looked each other in the eyes and said: ‘This is it, if we do this anymore, the film is not going to get made,’ and of course he showed up wasted, and the film almost didn’t get made.”

Dowse cast many Canadians — “I’d like it to become like a troop with the same people in every film” — including Mike Wilmot as Wilde’s sleazy American agent (he plans to make a killing off the untapped “deaf market”) and Fubar leads David Lawrence and Paul Spence, back in metal mode as Austrian rockers in painful leather pants. Dowse’s family physician, Dr. Lim, who also appeared in Fubar, was flown in from Calgary for the pivotal scene where Frankie learns he’s going deaf.

Near the end of a long story about how Dr. Lim was “a genius, and then totally false all within one scene,” Dowse has to get off the phone. The American press is waiting. For them, he’s been encouraged to lie and pretend that Frankie Wilde is a real person.

“It doesn’t matter in Canada, because everyone knows what I do, but here, I’m trying to propagate that myth. I’ve had to be coached,” he says. But presumably not too much.

It’s All Gone Pete Tong opens June 10th in Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal and Calgary, and June 24th in Ottawa, Winnipeg, Halifax and Victoria.

Katrina Onstad writes about the arts for

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