Miles lifts charming outback fairytale

Issue 

Dingo
Starring Colin Friels, Helen Buday, Miles Davis
Directed by Rolf de Heer
Written by Marc Rosenberg
Now showing in Melbourne and Sydney; opens Canberra, Adelaide and Perth on February 13, Brisbane on March 19
Dingo soundtrack — music by Miles Davis and Michel Legrand
Warner Bros. Records
Reviewed by Norm Dixon

Dingo is the latest Australian feature film (actually an Australian-French co-production) that again proves you don't need a budget that surpasses the GNP of an average Third World nation to make a thoroughly entertaining picture. Nor do you need wild car chases, machoman leads, buckets of gore or even the seemingly mandatory sex scene.

Director Rolf de Heer has combined a quaint story-line, able actors and beautiful cinematography with settings ranging from the remote Kimberleys in outback Western Australia to the hurly-burly of Paris night-life to create a pleasant excuse for movie-goers to while away 108 minutes.

But what lifts Dingo from being merely a "nice" film to a memorable one (at least for this reviewer, a self-confessed Milesophile) is the performance of jazz trumpet legend Miles Davis, in his first and last acting role in a feature film (Davis died late last year), and a marvellous, sometimes haunting, sometimes vibrant, soundtrack composed by Davis and Michel Legrand.

The film opens almost surrealistically when we see, through the eyes of 12-year-old John "Dingo" Anderson, a huge jet airliner descend on the small desolate town of Poona Flat. Out of the aircraft emerge Billy Cross (Miles Davis) and his band. As the esky-carrying, beer-bellied and bethonged locals gather at the runway, Billy Cross greets them with an impromptu concert. This amazingly different music mesmerises young Dingo, and from that moment playing jazz trumpet with Billy Cross becomes his obsession, an obsession nobody in his desert backwater shares or understands.

Twenty years later, Dingo (Colin Friels) still lives in Poona Flat, has married the wonderfully laconic Jane (Helen Buday), has two kids, hunts wild dogs for a living and plays in the local bush dance band — and is still consumed by his dream to play with the great Billy Cross, now a resident of Paris.

As Dingo approaches his 33rd birthday, feeling trapped and unappreciated, he decides that it's now or never and takes off to Paris to see if he can achieve his lifelong ambition.

The scenes set in Paris are the best and most relaxed in the film. Friels is at his best. And Miles Davis is revealed to be an impressive actor with a regal screen presence. He plays perfectly the part of the reclusive jazz hermit, enticed back to live performance by the wide-eyed Australian with the "outback sound". The final concert scene is the film's highlight.

Dingo doesn't pretend to have a deep message (despite the hree-legged dingo that is too smart to be caught and too slow to catch sheep). It is about the choices, risks and sacrifices people can and can't make to realise their dreams.

Some may scoff at the basic theme of the film: if you have a dream, take a risk and go for it. But the truth is we all have a dream we'd like to achieve that may well be worth making a sacrifice or taking a risk to achieve, whether it is to play jazz or achieve a fair and just world.