“Heart of a Dog” is Laurie Anderson’s cinematic collection of remembrances of her late, beloved, piano-playing, finger-painting dog Lolabelle. Melding real-life footage and imagined sequences of the dog after death, the film also touches on Anderson’s experiences in New York post-9/11.
Famous for her experimental performance art, beginning in the late-1960s, Anderson has had a productive art rock career sparked by her 1982 album debut “Big Science,” which included the minimalist single “O Superman.” She has directed movies, including 1986 cult concert film “Home of the Brave.”
Abramorama will open “Heart of a Dog,” which premiered in Telluride before heading off to the Venice competition, theatrically on Wednesday, October 21st before it hits HBO in 2016. It’s also playing in Toronto.
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.
“Heart of a Dog” contrasts the absurdities of modern times with sweeping observations that dwarf such concerns. Using a personal style reminiscent of Chris Marker’s diary films, Anderson develops an eloquent treatise on the nature of canine obsession that dovetails into post-9/11 anxieties, ruminations on the afterlife, and the fragility of every waking moment. Her fragmented observations organically sway from warm nostalgia to utter dread. “As a child, I was a kind of sky worshipper,” she says early on, as the screen turns blue, setting the stage for a wide open investigation into the desire to understand forces just beyond human comprehension.
From a sensory point of view, the film is a pleasure, the images having been manipulated in various ways to evocative effect, Anderson’s voiceovers proving more amusing than not, and the music taking mostly lively turns. But most of all, you leave feeling that Lolabelle was very lucky in her choice of owner.
Anderson’s breathy delivery and the exaggerated infusion of magic realism in her reminiscences may rub some audiences the wrong way. Her sense of loss in this amalgam of media can’t be denied.