Jeez, what was the last movie I saw in the theatre? Hmn… squirrels scuttle about in memory banks… oh! maybe that one what was it called – about surfing Mavericks – don’t think that was the name though. Anyway, yeah, I know… but I wanted to see the ocean scenes on the big screen. No matter how much home theatre you have (which I don’t) there is something about seeing a movie on the Big Screen. The experience of it.
So I vaguely pay attention to what’s playing, and there’s plenty of movies that sound intriguing but I don’t seem to get to them. But the planets aligned this weekend and I went to see Laurie Anderson’s Heart of a Dog.
Which, I have – and love – her album Strange Angels, but have never seen any of her performances, so I didn’t really know what to expect, and can’t say if it’s typical for her. (That is, if you have seen her before, if this will satisfy or disappoint.) There was a woman in the row behind me who said, “I want to see that again!” as soon as the lights came up.
Now, what to say about it? I’d only read the description on the theatre webpage, from the Toronto Film Festival, and was glad I didn’t know any more. Wait, how did I miss that she and Lou Reed were a couple? Or did I know that? Hmn.
Renowned mul-ti-dis-ci-pli-nary artist Laurie Anderson returns with this lyrical and powerfully personal essay film that reflects on the deaths of her husband Lou Reed, her mother, her beloved dog, and such diverse subjects as family memories, surveillance, and Buddhist teachings.
Laurie Anderson’s eclectic career spans music, drawing, storytelling, performance, and more. She had a surprise hit with her 1981 song “O Superman,” was NASA’s first artist in residence, and toured internationally with her political performance-art piece Homeland. Her new feature film, Heart of a Dog, combines her multiple talents in a personal film essay.
The dog of the title is her beloved rat terrier Lolabelle, who passed away in 2011 during a succession of family deaths that also included Anderson’s mother, Mary Louise, and husband, Lou Reed. Anderson’s close bond with Lolabelle underlies the film’s stream of consciousness, which flows through subjects as diverse as family memories, surveillance, and Buddhist teachings. She lingers particularly over the concept of the bardo, described in the Tibetan Book of the Dead as the forty-nine-day period between death and rebirth. Overlaying the film’s tapestry of images – which include Anderson’s animation, 8mm home-movie footage, and lots of lovingly photographed dogs – is her melodic narration, full of warmth, humour, and insight.
Anderson’s approach has a kinship with that of filmmaker Chris Marker (Sans Soleil), with a similar flair for connecting disparate themes and images. She quotes from other writers and artists, including Kierkegaard, Wittgenstein, Gordon Matta-Clark, and David Foster Wallace, whose line “every love story is a ghost story” resonates strongly in this work. If those references sound philosophical, so is this film. But it’s also dreamy, comic, and intensely emotional. Like Anderson, it defies easy categorization. – Toronto International Film Festival
Feel free to stop here, and come back to the rest of it after you’ve seen the movie… For sure very thought-provoking, so part of the trying to write about it is that I’m mulling it all over, quite likely will be for a while. I won’t try to describe it, or re-tell any of the bits in it. Wouldn’t do it justice. And stream-of-consciousness seems cliché… there isn’t a linear narrative, but there are stories, interwoven – the way things happen in life – related, or maybe not, all part of the ride. General themes, and specific details. Loss, pain, and laugh-out-loud funny moments. Autobiographical and yet universal. A wonderful waking dream.
And the Googles comes up with all sorts of reviews, I liked the discussion with Anderson in this article, particularly the ending quote, “But it’s all the same. Music and painting and film. It’s the same gestures, and you ask the exact same questions. ‘Is it crazy enough? Is it organized enough? Is it beautiful enough?’ … The question is always, with all stories, whether it’s a dream and who’s writing it. Everybody’s trying to tell the story all the time, whether it’s Facebook or somewhere else, trying to come up with a coherent version of you. They want you to be pretty consistent. ‘Don’t do anything out of character.’ But you don’t have to do that. You can be completely quirky.”