I guess you can’t consider yourself an experimental artist without receiving polarising responses to your work. Enthusiastic clapping, and a few boos met Heart of a Dog in Venice, the first feature length film from Laurie Anderson in decades. In truth, it didn’t deserve either. A perfectly likeable musing on loss, initially via the passing of her pet dog Lolabelle, it can’t help but feel like a collection of unfinished thoughts as Anderson ranges from childhood memories to musings on the surveillance culture in the US post 9/11.
Anderson is a fascinating figure. She’s had hit singles, created her own instruments, made a well-received concert film, and lived with Lou Reed from 1992 until his death, a household I can only imagine must have been bursting with off-the-wall creativity. Mostly though, she’s experimented with sound, and occasionally image. That’s exactly what you get in Heart of a Dog, a documentary that includes home videos of Lolabelle, CCTV footage, and sketched animation, all laid on top of a wonderfully haunting score from Anderson herself.
Her voice a warm, intimate instrument in its own right, she narrates throughout, returning to Lolabelle in different forms, sometimes via flighty animated fantasies around giving birth to the dog, other times using videos of the animal painting and playing the piano after she’s gone blind in her later years (how many dogs can claim that for a retirement plan?). It’s through remembering the dog that Anderson comes to terms with its death, and in doing so, opens a window into other areas.
Forgotten memories from childhood come back – the time she saved siblings from icy water a particularly powerful recollection – but the loss isn’t all personal. Her experience living in New York after the World Trade Centre was destroyed becomes a running theme, and with it, the loss of personal liberty that has occurred in the US since. The NSA and its obsession with collecting all the data possible on its own citizens comes in for an oblique attack tinged with sadness at what once was, and now will be.
And there’s the problem. Floating around inside Anderson’s thoughts is fun for a time, but it doesn’t go anywhere. She changes direction too regularly, unwilling to finish the previous thought, and seems so caught in whimsical stories from the past that she seems oblivious to all of us watching on. Heart of a Dog is an ok film, full of fuzzy edges and rounded corners. Enjoyable in a hazy way, it’s not what you’d expect from someone as sharp and interesting as Anderson.
Director: Laurie Anderson
Writer: Laurie Anderson