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Doug and the Slugs and Me (Documentary). In her new doc, filmmaker Teresa Alfeld uncovers the story of Doug Bennett, leader of the legendary 1980s Canadian party band Doug and the Slugs — and the dad of her childhood best friend. Courtesy of CBC

In her new doc, filmmaker Teresa Alfeld uncovers the story of Doug Bennett, leader of the legendary 1980s Canadian party band Doug and the Slugs — and the dad of her childhood best friend.Courtesy of CBC

“Would you take another look at me if I were dangerous?” Doug Bennett asked in 1981. “Would you take another shot at me if I was fool enough?” The late Bennett was the Doug of Doug and the Slugs, a likeable party band from Vancouver that felt anything but threatening, or even barely serious.

There’s always more to the story, though. Surfaces are meant to be scratched, so here’s another question for you: If a poignant and personal new documentary dared to reconsider the Making it Work hitmakers, would you be bothered to take another look?

Doug and the Slugs and Me, which debuts on CBC and CBC Gem on Jan. 15, comes from Teresa Alfeld, a director whose lost childhood friendship with one of bandleader Bennett’s three daughters adds another layer to an atypical rock doc that examines the life of a pop band that was successful but apparently not successful enough. The film focuses on a seemingly happy chap in Bennett who was a more frustrated and complicated artist than a MuchMusic generation might have ever imagined.

Just last weekend in a Globe and Mail obituary of Vancouver rock critic Tom Harrison, Doug and the Slugs was dismissed as a “novelty act.” The new documentary disputes that description.

“I hope the film makes the case that Doug and the Slugs are so much more,” says Alfeld, who grew up right next door to the Bennett family’s big house in Vancouver in the 1990s. “Doug was a master marketer who realized they got a lot of attention as this vaudevillian, satirical, funny band, and obviously the live show was a huge part of that. But at the same time, I think Doug was a genius lyricist who wrote a lot of interesting and sophisticated things that never got airplay.”

Helping Alfeld rehabilitate the public perception of Bennett and the band are interview subjects such as Bob Geldof, the Live Aid humanitarian and leader of the Boomtown Rats who in the 1970s was a music editor for the Vancouver alt-weekly newspaper the Georgia Straight. “It’s about the fun of the music, with an overarching intelligence that sublimates fun into something other,” Geldof says about the band’s unrecognized depth.

Open this photo in gallery:
Doug and the Slugs and Me (Documentary). In her new doc, filmmaker Teresa Alfeld uncovers the story of Doug Bennett, leader of the legendary 1980s Canadian party band Doug and the Slugs — and the dad of her childhood best friend. Courtesy of CBC

Doug Bennett, of Doug and the Slugs, has been described as an 'improbable' rock star.Courtesy of CBC

Former Barenaked Ladies co-frontman Steven Page says Doug and the Slugs “absolutely paved the way” for BNL. Singer Bif Naked sees the band as “cool and whimsical,” and Denise Donlon, formerly a high-ranking executive at MuchMusic, Sony Music and CBC Radio, describes Bennett as an “improbable rock star” who was more carnival worker than sex symbol.

The film is not hagiography. The surviving Slugs and others, including manager Sam Feldman, talk about ego problems, self-sabotage, record-label issues and creative differences within the group. Bennett’s boozing – he drank himself to death by age 52 – is not avoided. Neither are his struggles to bend his band members to his creative will. “Do what I’m dreaming, don’t wreck it” was his mindset, according to tour manager Joe Jackson.

Doug and the Slugs and Me could have easily veered into the type of scandal mongering found on VH1′s Behind the Music, but the film has a soul. Alfeld had access to a stash of Bennett’s private journals that chronicle his hopes, fears and frustrations in 39 notebooks covering the band’s rise and fall. From a 1984 entry: “So here I am, a little angry over the shape of my future. The only positive highlight so far this year is the fact that I’m going to be a father. Maybe that’s the price for great joy.”

For Alfeld, the diaries were a jackpot she used cautiously. “I felt a great responsibility in choosing which journal entries to include in the film, and not betraying any privacy.”

Alfeld herself wasn’t expecting to make such a poignant film, and she wasn’t planning for there to be so much “me” in Doug and the Slugs and Me. A death in her own family made its way into the narrative. “It became clear that my own life had been altered by Doug’s life,” she says.

Chronicling the story of Bennett, the film also serves as meditation on the dreams of Canadian artists who after domestic success harbour hopes of breaking into the U.S. market next. The Slugs had gone far but not far enough for Bennett’s liking. The perceived shortcoming seemed to eat him alive.

“Doug was the face of the band and he was the chief songwriter,” Alfeld says. “I think he was under an insurmountable amount of pressure that built up over the years.”

He wrote a song about that weight before he was even 30 years old. “Tell me another tale of how a man succeeds,” he sang on 1981′s Partly from Pressure. “I know the way he fails, he runs away from what he needs.”

Bennett wasn’t dangerous but he was in danger, and he does deserve another look.

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