Overview: In HEART OF A DOG, renowned creative pioneer, Laurie Anderson, delivers a lament for her beloved rat terrier Lolabelle, exploring themes of love, life, death and loss in an impressionistic, deeply personal journey through one woman’s life, mind and art. Beginning with an animated dream sequence in which Anderson imagines giving birth to Lolabelle (who passed away in 2011), this ethereal essay weaves together childhood memories, video footage and musings on a post-9/11 world and the Buddhist conception of the afterlife, as well as heartfelt tributes to artists, writers, musicians and thinkers who inspire her. The documentary combines witty, poetic narration with original music compositions, hand-drawn animation, home movies and artwork culled from past and present exhibitions, creating a hypnotic, collage-like visual language out of the raw materials of Anderson’s life and art, exploring how stories are constructed and told.
HEART OF A DOG was nominated for Best Documentary at the 2016 Independent Spirit Awards, and screened at several film festivals, including Telluride and the Venice, Toronto and New York festivals. Released theatrically in the U.S. to critical acclaim, the film is dedicated to Anderson’s husband, Lou Reed, the rock icon who died in 2013. His song “Turning Time Around” closes the film.
Expectations: I’m legitimately confused, based on what bits I have read and seen of this documentary. Learning of the filmmaker I can only be sure that this film won’t be structured or filmed in the normal ways one expects these types of works to be shot. And that fact just might be the angle that draws a viewer, or at least this one, into it. As far as the full 140 minutes for of philosophical musings and how this all ties into Lollabelle, the dog, I’m not sure what I’ll like or grasp until it all plays out. Wrap your mind around the trailer and see if it speaks to you.
Gut Reaction: Is it an art film or a documentary or does it matter? It clearly comes across as an art film filled with animation and old home movies treated through certain filters. As a documentary it offers musings on a number of subjects but focuses mostly on love, death and loss. It tries to explain how the filmmaker processes it all. She does so with the aid of Buddhist teachings, therapists and noted philosophers. The Tibetan Book Of The Dead is quoted quite often. She takes these thoughts and applies them to her life and matches them up with imagery and music to flesh out the message of the piece. Her voice is a perfect match for the dissertation; it is a perfectly wry and soft-toned voice that you could listen to all day.
It draws you in and so does Lollabelle, the rat terrier. If there is any one main character it is that dog. This dog is a true companion and a talented one who went on to paint and play music believe it or not. It is well featured in the piece. The life of Lollabelle and the unique observations of Anderson oddly work, but left me wondering what this is all about. It almost comes across as a therapy practice for the filmmaker as she talks through the loss of, not only her beloved pet, but her mother and her husband. Are we to extract some helpful tool from all this. I did not, but I guess others might.
In Conclusion: This is not a conventional documentary if that is what you seek. It is artistically created to get you to feel a certain way if you let it. Sometimes, I’ll admit, I was distracted from that goal. At times I was just focused on her words blurring out the imagery and other times I was studying the imagery and tuning out her voice-over. In fact, when it was suddenly over I though perhaps I had missed something. Though Anderson’s perspective of the world is quite interesting getting it all down on film seemed mesmerizingly odd.
Next: Into the mind of another documentarian in CLAUDE LANSMANN: SPECTRES OF THE SHOAH debuting 05.02 at 9:00pm.