Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Tue Sep 29, 2015 3:28 pm 
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A good-natured mélange of thoughts, anecdotes and whimsy

Dogs have clearly become an avant-gardist’s best friend. First Jean-Luc Godard delivered a funny 3D valentine to a pooch named Roxy Mieville in Goodbye to Language, and now the New York-based musician/performance artist Laurie Anderson has woven a tide of personal stories, insights and visual-musical riffs into a more accessible but no less singular consideration of the species in Heart of a Dog. While this alternately goofy, serious, lyrical and beguiling cine-essay serves primarily as a loving tribute to the memory of Anderson’s rat terrier, Lolabelle, its roving, free-associative structure brings together all manner of richly eccentric musings on the evasions of memory, the limitations of language and storytelling, the strangeness of life in a post-9/11 surveillance state, and the difficulty and necessity of coming to terms with death.--Justin Chang, Variety.

I can't add much to what Justin Chang said about this genial, meandering film. It partakes of the spirit of Laurie Anderson's performances that go back to the early Seventies. This one is dedicated to the memory of her husband Lou Reed who died in October 2013 at the age of 71 -- though there is not much of or about Lou Reed in Heart of a Dog. Most of this film is in the first person, and dominated by Anderson's voice, which almost never lets up. An interlude of silence, a grove of winter trees with light snow falling, is one of the most memorable parts of the film.

From her photos and citations of neighbors we learn Anderson lived on West Eleventh Street, in the same block as Julian Schnabel's pink "Palazzo del Popolo" -- within breathing distance of the World Trade Center and, she tells, confronted with a roadway and land along the West River near her street covered with white dust. The two overriding themes of Heart of a Dog are 9/11 (and its aftermath) and her dog, with some philosophizing and several digressions to talk about major events in her early life. Notable among these is a long period spent in hospital with a broken back after jumping off a diving board and hitting the pool's cement edge, and the time when when she took two little brothers out on a lake in winter and they fell through the ice and she saved them.

Lolabelle, Laurie's rat terrier, turns out, pushed by the artist-filmmaker's whimsy, to have surprising talents. Though she may have been pushed to reveal them, the dog learns to "make art" and "play" the piano. Seeking to escape 9/11 paranoia, Anderson took Lolabella on a trip to Northern California. She tells us rat terriers are said to be capable of mastering 500 words, and she aimed to discover "which words they were." But this project she abandoned in favor of simply enjoying the beauties of the hills and coast.

The music is powerful, though for complexity and richness of images Godard's Goodbye to Language has the edge. Anderson's film is "more accessible" but also less complex, less intellectually challenging. Her observations, sometimes relying on her Buddhist teacher, are on the obvious slide. There is a reminiscence of the unique, short-lived artist Gordon Matta-Clark, who was a friend, and died at only 35. She tells how he invited his friends to the hospital in his last days and read to them. This is a good-natured work that it's impossible to dislike.

Heart of a Dog, 75 mins., debuted at Telluride. Screened for this review as part of the 2015 New York Film Festival where it was presented as a Special Event. Anderson designed this year's New York Film Festival poster. A US theatrical release of the film begins in NYC 19 Oct. 2015 (Film Forum).

©Chris Knipp. Blog:

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