Cinema: Heart of a Dog

By Ross, Deborah | The Spectator, May 21, 2016 | Go to article overview

Cinema: Heart of a Dog


Ross, Deborah, The Spectator


Heart of a Dog is a film by Laurie Anderson and it's a meditative, free-associating rumination on life, loss, love and dogs, with particular reference to her and her late husband's (Lou Reed, who died in 2013) beloved rat terrier, Lolabelle (who died the same year).

It follows no linear logic. It's a visual collage, a cine-poem, a dreamy documentary essay that was screened in London earlier this week to owners and their dogs -- to rave reviews. 'It's great!' said a golden retriever, but as he said the same of 'a ball' and also 'a pizza crust', he may not be the most reliable of critics. (This is why you never see golden retrievers on Film 2016 or writing for Sight & Sound. ) For myself, I found it a bit weird, I grant you, but also wise and thought-provoking -- 'you should learn how to feel sad without being sad'; I'm still trying to work that one out -- and strangely hypnotic.

Plus, it's all done and dusted in an hour and 15 minutes which, as far as existential journeys go, is probably less time than it takes to get through to your bank or BT, in my experience.

Anderson, now 68, is the New York-based performance artist musician who had a hit in the Eighties with 'O Superman'. This is her first film for 30 years -- her earlier one was a behind-the-scenes documentary about life on the road -- and it follows no formal demands or any linear rationale. It goes where it goes, drifts where it drifts, sniffs where it sniffs. It opens with a self-drawn animation of her 'dream self' giving birth to Lolabelle. A bit weird, I'll grant you again, but it does enable you to feel the ferocity of her love for Lolabelle and, by association, for Lou to whom this film is dedicated, and who is only seen and heard fleetingly at the end, but whose absence feels like a constant presence gone.

The film then follows one thought as it leads to another, as accompanied by old footage, new footage, photographs, further animations, floating text, childhood cine films. Meanwhile, Anderson narrates throughout in a hushed, intimate tone with a particular phrasing that puts full stops where you least expect them, as in 'What is the last thing you say. Before you. Turn into dirt?' (In her mother's instance, it was, 'Why are there so many animals on the ceiling now? …

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