A curious film indeed: a hand-drawn animation painstakingly put together by a husband and wife team, bringing to vivid and imaginative life JR Ackerley’s memoir of his later life with a dog called Tulip.
Ackerly was a commissioning editor with the BBC in the war years, and an (ahem) confirmed bachelor throughout his life. In his fifties, he acquired Tulip, a young alsatian bitch, apparently from a northern coal miner who didn’t treat her well. How Ackerley came to acquire the dog, and why he left comfortable Putney for a colliery to collect it, isn’t explored.
So, as it is pitched, a warm and heartfelt meditation by a lonely man who has found companionship in his autumn years. I went in expecting to be enchanted, for my earthly troubles to melt away for an hour or two (for that’s the absolvent character of pictures like this). They didn’t. My Dog Tulip was in parts amusing and diverting, if never laugh-out-loud funny (this didn’t stop the chap next to me laughing out loud though, I submit, he did this in encouragement rather than genuine reaction). As I suspect most people were, I was rooting for the picture: willing it to be heartwarming: but in honest reflection it missed, fairly solidly, that golden opportunity.
Christopher Plummer certainly captured the cantankerous, elderly, Ackerley perfectly. But of the relationship between man and hound – supposedly the core of this picture – there was little. By way of proxy there was a close examination – literally, on occasion – of the dog’s bowel and bladder motions. Now this sort of thing you might expect as a rum entree : a means of establishing terms between man and dog, to set up the main stage for the relationship: after all, that a dog defecates, urinates and vomits is not exactly news to anyone who has ever owned a dog, and I’m not sure what was achieved by dwelling on them except easy and not especially durable laughs. Yet dwell on them the Fierlingers did, for almost half the picture, which was taken up with Ackerley’s dry observations about this activity and its effect on Ackerley’s own distant human relationships (not generally good anyway, and a crapping dog didn’t help). The second half of the picture then charts Ackerley’s forlorn attempts to “marry” Tulip (rather like her master, Tulip doesn’t seem to be especially into the concept), again with forlorn effects on a cast of dog breeders and other passers-through. No doubt there was something poignant about the juxtaposition of this enterprise and Ackerley’s own indisposition to do anything of the sort himself – but notthree-quarters of an hour’s worth.
Mildly diverting, and well delivered by Christopher Plummer certainly, but really not much to sustain interest for as long as it took, and I admit my attention did wander off on occasion.
The autumn years of Tulip’s existence come and go quickly and what you’re left with is a story of a rather cantankerous and, frankly, misanthropic old man who got a dog, found companionship of a sort in humans he could not abide, it crapped a lot, then died.
My Dog Tulip is out in cinemas 6th May 2011.
Directors: Paul Fierlinger, Sandra Fierlinger
Stars: Christopher Plummer, Lynn Redgrave, Isabella Rossellini
Runtime: 83 min