By John Esther | October 25, 2015
Director: Laurie Anderson
In her autobiographical documentary, Heart of a Dog, renown artist-composer Laurie Anderson utilizes 8mm home videos, the artist’s own hand illustrations/drawings and musical compositions (old and new), her artwork, and that notable affected voice of hers to offer her own musings on life and death in the 21st century.
Although the documentary is dedicated to Anderson’s late husband — the fine, fine, rock ‘n’ roll legend Lou Reed — surprisingly and thankfully, rather than focus on her relationship with Reed, Anderson uses her rat terrier canine pet, Lolabelle (who died in 2011, a year before Reed), as the springboard for her musings.
Those musings include thoughtful analyses regarding the surveillance state in post-9/11 America, Lolabelle’s batophobia (ironically induced), playful quotes by Soren Kierkegaard, Ludwig Wittegenstein and David Foster Wallace, the data-dada of our times and Anderson’s own memory bank regarding her horrifying stint in a hospital while an adolescent and the death of her mother as an adult.
On another hand, Lolabelle and those mediums are also utilized as means for some silly talk about ghosts, unsubstantiated Buddhist presumptions about the afterlife, and a story involving sudden infant death syndrome that may as well come out of a Scientology lecture.
There is also a lot of ruminating and imagery regarding Anderson’s dreams and her dog. As is often the case when people talk about their pets and dreams, it can become taxing, yet Anderson’s intelligence and whimsy overcomes the self-indulgences. There is little use denying some of Anderson’s brilliant constructs — visually and aurally; and her humor is often infectious. And watching Lolabelle learn how to sing and play the piano — with a professional teacher (those artsy types with disposable income)– is pretty darn cute.
A smooth look into the mind of one of America’s more interesting contemporary artists, the 75-minute Heart of a Dog is worth watching, as well as listening, too. The documentary glides on with few lulls, even if one does squint during its brief moments of silliness. While catching it at the theater will heighten the public experience, this text may be better suited for a home viewing with one’s dog (or cat) at her or his side.