A discursive documentary about the origins of the Baha Men’s 2000 hit, “Who Let The Dogs Out” begins eight years ago when Brooklyn artist Ben Sisto got stuck on one Wikipedia entry detail—that the success of ‘Who Let The Dogs Out?,’ the song, had a whole lot to do with a hairdresser named Keith who recorded a version of it blasting off a float during a parade, or so Wikipedia claimed. Sisto couldn’t escape this unverified, half-of-a-fact. “Keith? Just Keith? No last name?” He had to verify it. So he began Googling and calling and digging around. His quest was bigger than Keith and introduced him to a handful of variations on the song and/or chant, each one older than the next. Eight years later, who actually came up with ‘Who Let The Dogs Out?’ is still unclear.
“Who Let The Dogs Out” hangs together using footage of Sisto presenting this saga to a live audience which makes it a bit like a distracted stand-up comedy special buoyed by the tics of investigative true crime, where twists, delayed and omitted information, and other tricks of the trade tug you around. We learn the song (or one version at least) was created as a response to party music misogyny, a Soca-tinged kvetch about dumb dudes on the dancefloor and how they’re like dogs. Then we learn at least two other people claiming credit for the song were supposedly thinking the same thing about sexism in the club. And we meet a ridiculous cast of characters including: the aforementioned hairdresser named Keith (he does indeed have a last name and is kind of famous); a few hit-hunting record industry schlockmeisters (including one who recorded an early version of the song under the name Fat Jakk and His Pack of Pets in a voice best described as aural blackface); an unlikely trio of Miami Bassheads; a whole bunch of Caribbean musicians (including the longanimous Anslem Douglas, officially credited for writing the Baha Men hit); singer Gillette, who is better known for junk-insulting “Short Dick Man” fame; a white rapper named Chuck Smooth; a technocratic promo guy for the Seattle Mariners; a far-too-furious lawyer; some morning DJs in Detroit; and a whole bunch of high school and college football teams “who who who”-ing all around the country as far back as the ‘80s at least.
At times, Sisto’s fact-finding presentation even comes with receipts—literally. A sampler owned by two goofy white boy producers who used it in 1992 to record and then sample themselves screaming “Who let the dogs out?,” creating a proto-“Dogs Out” track is proven it was purchased way back then when the receipt is found still in the box (bonus: a hard disk featuring the recorded chants, timestamped 1992 too). This verifies that the Baha Men’s version truly began eight years earlier in Jacksonville, Florida—or so we think for about 10 minutes.
There are touches of Orson Welles’ cinematic sleight-of-hand “F For Fake” and the strange obsession-is-the-obsession creep of “Zodiac,” but “Who Let The Dogs Out” is breezy, edited and narrated with the affable accessibility of a five-minute video you may see from Vice or Vox on your Facebook feed, fleshed out to a breathless, crowd pleasing hour-long unsolved mystery. Long after the doc is over, nagging existential uncertainty about facts of any kind, the weird Sisyphean fun of trying to figure out something you can’t really ever figure out, and the hook to this goofy-ass song remain.
“Who Let The Dogs Out,” directed by Brent Hodge screens at Maryland Film Festival on Friday, May 10 at 9:45 p.m. at Parkway 1 and Sunday, May 12 at 4:45 p.m. at Falvey Hall at MICA Brown Center. For more information on MdFF go here.