' Cinema Romantico: Heart of a Dog

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Heart of a Dog



As the title implies, Laurie Anderson’s marvelous, essayistic documentary “Heart of a Dog” is a meditation on losing her beloved rat terrier, Lolabelle, which is connected explicatively to the loss of her own mother and quietly to the loss of her husband, legendary rocker Lou Reed, who is never mentioned in the film but whose presence nonetheless is very much felt, which is, in turn, connected to other ideas of loss, like a seemingly misplaced rumination on 9/11 which gives way to the idea of maintaining our personal identity in the loss of particular personal freedoms...and so on. And while that might make the documentary sound incredibly sprawling, akin to Frederick Wiseman’s three hour “In Jackson Heights”, it is just a blip, only 75 minutes long. And yet, it is no less rich than Wiseman’s film, filled to the cinematic brim with techniques and observations and a relentless accumulation of humanism. Anderson explores the inner-workings of her own mind and emotions in the way that Wiseman seeks out various truths from the Jackson Heights neighborhood and its inhabitants. And though at “Heart of a Dog’s” end you might seek to piece together each of Anderson’s seemingly infinite strands, intrigued to reason how it all fits as one overarching statement, that becomes less and less of the point as the film progresses and catches you up in its rhythms because, almost imperceptibly, it becomes mostly about watching it right then. “Heart of a Dog” reminded me of those writing exercises where you’re told to just...write. Whatever you see, whatever you think, whatever is happening, whatever might be rattling around unknowingly in your subconscious, let it out. This is not to say that it’s messy, because it isn’t, but that it comes across entirely free form, like everything Laurie Anderson has wanted to say for so long all came tumbling out in one passionate whoosh. And that’s how you end up with Tibetan Buddhism and a series of Anderson’s favorite quotes and a sequence of Lolabelle playing the piano which, from a certain angle, might seem like someone foisting their home videos unwanted upon you. But “Heart of a Dog” is not solipsistic. Sure, Ms. Anderson’s voice dominates the film the way Marlon Brando's voice dominates another uniquely packaged 2015 documentary, “Listen to Me Marlon”, but Brando’s voice, taken from his own personal recordings, is declarative; he knows what he knows. Anderson’s voice, on the other hand, is searching, curious and receptive. She’s not squeezing you out, she’s inviting you in, asking you how you feel. The whole thing brings to mind podcast master Marc Maron’s idea that by recounting his stories it subtly induces guests to consider their own. Anderson is not simply asking us to watch but to actively engage. She is asking us to identify, to parse our own memories and weigh her film against our own recollections of love and loss. As such, “Heart of a Dog” becomes an incredible communal experience, where you leave theater engaging with your own personal history as much as Anderson’s, and engaging with existence itself.

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