Heart of a Dog
Directed by Laurie Anderson
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.
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★★★★½ review by PatrickRipoll on Letterboxd
The unexpected recipe of eulogy, cute animal videos and surveillance culture dread synthesized into the finest cinematic representation of the act of remembering I have ever experienced.
I don't know nothing about nothing, so it wouldn't surprise me if this is philosophically facile or a misrepresentation of Buddhist beliefs or even Just Plain Dumb, but there is such an emotional immediacy that I never once worried about any of that. I have no spirituality to speak of, no real personal philosophy, and little to no interest in obtaining these things. But I was still riveted by Laurie Anderson's exploration of all of this because it was so simple, so straight-forward, and urgent.
The film's formal approach to depicting memory is not ground-breaking. You've seen this all before: expressionistic animated sketches, super 8 footage slowed down to one frame per second, dissolves, looping clips, stock footage of rain on windows, bare branches of trees, amateur photographs of family blown-up to abstraction. In fact, in most instances, I'd call it cliche.
But what pushes Heart of a Dog past cliche into sublimely moving territory is it's commitment to this aesthetic, and it's alchemical relationship with Laurie Anderson's audio essay. There is an earnest and desperate tenor the project takes on, stream of consciousness that goes beyond mere word association into active searching, a quest for answers, truth, some sort of meaning, yes, but also a self-reflexive understanding that by forcing raw memory into the shape of the story, one also scars and dilutes it, possibly perverts it, maybe even does it a dreadful disservice.
She gives you time to ruminate, to meditate, to consider. The film's score and ambient soundscape are predictably subtle and powerful, and have a distant subterranean sound that matches the faded images perfectly, which match her matter-of-fact and open narration perfectly, which matches her probing free-form essays perfectly.
I do not share many things with Laurie Anderson. We are very different people, with different experiences, different beliefs, different philosophies, in different situations in different points of our lives. But the 75 minutes I spent watching this movie felt like being given a gracious entry into her head, to live as she lives, the think as she thinks. And I can't thank her enough for it. A
★★★★ review by sydney on Letterboxd
an intensely personal diary about subjects so big they'll keep you awake night after night, but the diy iphone digital visuals and soothing performance artist mom voiceover make those thoughts feel like something you can hold in your hands...there is so much sadness and grief and pain and unanswerable questioning here but it's such a quiet, dreamy, almost relaxing experience it makes those feelings seem manageable.
★★★★½ review by Sean Gilman on Letterboxd
Yeah, this is a story of famous dogs
For the dog that chases its tail will be busy
These are clapping dogs, rhythmic dogs
Harmonic dogs, house dogs, street dogs
Dogs of the world unite
Yeah, countin' dogs, funky dogs
Un-tied dog in a telematic society
Aint your average huckleberry hound
Why must I feel like that?
Why must I chase the cat?
Nothin' but the dog in me
Nothing but the dog in me
-- George Clinton
★★★½ review by Michael Sicinski on Letterboxd
Anderson's Year of Magical Thinking, essentially, although her inimitable style -- somehow simultaneously plainspoken and oblique -- is miles from Didion's crisp patrician prose. There are fairly obvious influences in terms of how Anderson has constructed this, her first non-concert film. Chris Marker is the clearest point of contact, but Heart of a Dog is so fundamentally different from, say, Sans soleil or even The Case of the Grinning Cat that the comparison occludes as much as it reveals.
This is probably, I think, because where Marker came to filmmaking from photography and image-thought, with his writing a close second, Anderson is a musician through and through. The spaciousness of Dog, as opposed to the density of Marker's films, certainly leads to greater accessibility, but I think that's a byproduct of Anderson's sense of cadence, her understanding that notes are a part of the symphony, but so are rests. This means that her ideas have room to move around each other, to hover for awhile, before the film shifts gears.
This openness ultimately makes Heart of a Dog feel a bit more like a Laurie Anderson album, with a deluxe visual accompaniment, than a piece of cinema per se. But the deftness with which images and ideas are woven together makes such a distinction somewhat academic. The use of home movie footage of Anderson's late rat terrier Lolabelle is an organizing refrain more than a definitive topic, and in this respect Anderson is clearly operating in the Jonas Mekas vein, selecting an anchor point around which the wonders and complications of daily life can centripetally whirl.
What is perhaps most surprising in all of this is Anderson's rather strong focus on Buddhism in the second half of the film, from her visual contemplation of Lolabelle hanging out in the Bardo to the story about the passing of Gordon Matta-Clark. Interestingly, this Buddhist sensibility is subtly reflected in some of Anderson's visual choices, from her use of dense forest imagery (very Apichatpong) to the frequent shots of rain dripping down windows (a particularly Dorskian maneuver).
As the Lolabelle story extends to a wider consideration of loss, particularly the death of Anderson's mother ("Thank you for having me."), these abstractions give way to more home movie footage, ending with Lolabelle, elderly and blind, playing on the beach with her masters. It is only then that Anderson herself begins to appear, and that the ghostly presence who has been haunting the entire film -- Anderson's late husband Lou Reed -- is glimpsed, seated on the sand in the background, smiling. Heart of a Dog implicitly invites us to consider how much of what Anderson shares is obliquely about her process of mourning for Reed, and how much is typically plainspoken, telling it exactly like it is.
★★★½ review by matt lynch on Letterboxd
Laurie Anderson says I can move through walls, so it must be true.
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