sat 02/03/2024

DVD: Heart of a Dog | reviews, news & interviews

DVD: Heart of a Dog

DVD: Heart of a Dog

The heart of Laurie Anderson's much-loved rat terrier takes us on a magical journey

Laurie Anderson's brilliant canine Requiem

The language of documentary is shot through with conventions. Rare is the occasion when a film-maker breaks the rules and throws the genre wide open. It takes a versatile artist like Laurie Anderson to free the medium from genre and invent a whole new way of doing things.

Heart of a Dog is a resolutely personal, emotionally charged and often witty exploration of the passing of Anderson’s rat terrier Lolabelle, but the film is also a meditation on dreams, death and love. Without ever seeming gimmicky, pretentious or over-intellectual, Anderson manages to seamlessly draw together reflections on the aftermath of 9/11, the threat of mass surveillance, her relationship with her mother, the consciousness of animals and a whole lot more. The style is poetic rather than linear, free-associating rather than sticking to an argument, and yet marrying style with content in a way that is flawlessly and continuously in the service of emotional authenticity as well as a depth and coherence that steadily builds over the course of the film.

There is beguiling animation – from Anderson’s own drawings - evocative 8mm film from the family archive, skilfully managed reconstruction (starring friends as well as her late husband Lou Reed), both touching and hilarious footage shot from Lolabelle’s low-angle viewpoint as well as a record of the terrier’s prowess at the easel and keyboard. The images are often digitally treated, to give them a subtle dream-like quality, but always with consummate taste and appropriate measure. The editing and pacing, rich with surprises along with well-judged use of repetition, are exemplary.

This is a film for anyone who has ever wondered about reincarnation or dipped into the Tibetan Book of the Dead. This dog’s heart – and the artist film-maker’s as well – are as much a resonant symbol of love and the soul as a softly beating pump. There is great magic in this moving film, a work of art that blends the personal and the universal in a most remarkable way. A beautiful requiem for a dog, but also a memorial to the intense and searching creativity of Laurie Anderson's greatest love, Lou Reed, to whom the film is dedicated.

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