Doug and the Slugs and Me
(Canada, 88 min.)
Dir. Teresa Alfeld
Living next door to the loud and boastful USA, Canadians might easily forget the history in their own backyards. Director Teresa Alfeld (The Rankin File) corrects her own sort of cultural amnesia in Doug and the Slugs and Me. The film is a fun, fast, and personal documentary about the hit Vancouver band Doug and the Slugs. Alfeld shares in the film that her childhood best friend, Shea, had a goofy, dorky dad who made music. It turns out that he was Doug Bennett, the titular Doug who fronted the Slugs. Much to Shea’s chagrin, Bennett gradually overtook the airwaves—first locally and then nationally—with his silly if catchy songs. Alfeld visits the haunts of her past to consider the legacy of Doug and the Slugs, and to reconnect with a life she thought she outgrew.
Audiences who know Doug and the Slugs from songs like “Too Bad,” “Making It Work,” and “Tomcat Prowl” will enjoy the trip down memory lane with Alfeld. For audiences who are encountering the band for the first time, the doc is a rollicking recap of music history. Alfeld gets impressive access to surviving bandmates and to Bennett’s family. The director makes herself part of the tale as she returns home and reconnects with her old neighbour, Bennett’s widow Nancy. Alfeld reflects upon her childhood with Shea Bennett, the bond they shared, and the role Doug played in her life.
A Fun Party
Nancy walks Alfeld through her relationship with Doug, which blossomed alongside his music career. From dive bars to loftier ambitions, the Slugs’ stature grew as did the Bennetts’ family. However, as Slugs like Simon Kendall and Joh Burton recall how making it as a rock band in Canada, especially outside Toronto, was a distant dream. However, like Nancy, they cite Doug and the Slugs’ endearing kitsch. Similarly, talking heads from Canadian music history, including Bif Naked, Michael Williams, Ron Sexsmith, Terry David Mulligan, and Ed the Sock unpack the Slugs’ legacy. A precursor to the silly songs of the Barenaked Ladies, Doug and the Slugs invited audiences to let loose and have fun.
The band’s archive also remains relatively well preserved. Alfeld features snippets of the Slugs’ silly music videos, which show Bennett’s quirkiness as a director. The videos go against the grain for the super-serious rock music of the eras. It’s refreshing to see how the rockers didn’t take themselves too seriously. As Alfeld gains further interviews with fans and Bennett’s colleagues, she shows how Doug and Slugs’ laid-back charm invited everyone to join the party.
Specific, yet Universal
Doug and the Slugs and Me features many of the expected rockumentary beats. There are ups and there are downs. There are break-ups, near-bankruptcies, and back-stabbing stories. Bandmates express frustrations with the commercial nature of music and the struggle for an offbeat outfit like Doug and the Slugs to retain its artistic integrity while aspiring to greater commercial success. They’re also a bit disheartened that Bennett retained the band’s name as its composition changed. The stories that Alfeld finds in the band’s story are therefore both specific and universal. The Slugs are unique, but their challenges related to many underdog bands, particularly in Canada.
What is unique, though, is the personal point of view that offers a through line to the story. Alfeld links her family life with that of the Bennetts and the story of how she and Shea grew apart. The director leans into the loss of her own father during production to situate the heartache with what she felt, and what Shea doubtlessly experienced, when Doug passed away in 2004. As she reconnects with Shea and her sisters, Alfeld shares the private words that Doug wrote, but never made public. In doing so, the film celebrates not simply a band and a rocker, but everyone who touches our lives in ways we never forget.
Doug and the Slugs and Me screens at Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema on October 8.