Okay, so I saw this amazing film last night: Heart of a Dog by Laurie Anderson. I really don’t know much about film so I don’t even really know how to write a review of this but I was just stunned and moved and choked up and inspired and awed by this film.
I kind of thought it would be more about dogs, but while I was wrong, I was not disappointed. Anderson’s rat terrier Lolabelle does feature prominently, but this isn’t a narrative film in which a linear story is told (not even in a mixed-time-sequence way). It’s more like… well, like a long poem, or a series of vignettes, or a song cycle. Anderson weaves in Lolabelle’s life and death, her relationship with her mother, her mother’s death, 9/11, the NSA data centre in Utah, dog training, a traumatic childhood accident, film clips from her childhood, her own fascinating poetry-narration, and really incredible imagery.
I guess what it reminded me of the most was some of my favourite art forms: collage and assemblage. Basically, that’s what this film was. Well, that’s silly—I guess all film is collage and assemblage. But mostly films are seamless so the viewer doesn’t see how the pieces fit together. In this film, the seams are visible. The shots and scenes are so varied and yet there are repetitive overlays and themes that bring them together—water, rain, snow, trees. It was like painting, where you use your colours in more than one spot in order to make the whole more cohesive. But mostly like actual collage and assemblage, with the layers of material each contributing all of their own nuances and histories and textures. The whole: more than the sum of its parts. Cumulative. I was moved to tears at multiple points, and laughter at others. For the whole second half of the film (it was about 90 minutes), while I was watching and reacting to it and thinking about it, another part of my mind was moving deeper and deeper into artmaking, filled with ideas and shapes and colours, the feeling and rustle of different papers, the brush dipping into thin glue and then moving across different textures of paper, the scratch of pens. I felt like I was at a long table filled with all the materials I could ever need, and I was ready to rush in and use those tools to tell a story. Like I was somehow getting bigger.
For the last week or so, I’ve been spending time at my new loom almost every day, and I’ve been drawing more as well. So I think I am receptive to these ideas and feelings now in a way that isn’t always the case. But one thing about weaving is that you can get really caught up in just following a pattern perfectly, whereas I tend to prefer to experiment and play. Sometimes I feel like I am doing it wrong, or I think of what the women in my weaver’s group will say and it makes me self-conscious and less comfortable with just trying things out at random. It’s a cyclical thing for me: when I am out of the habit of daily artmaking, I feel less confident about trusting my instincts and it takes a while to loosen up again.
Watching Heart of a Dog opened something up again. It reminded me that for every piece that goes once upon a time / happily ever after there is also a piece that goes elsewhere.
Apparently I’m also the last person in the world who doesn’t know about Laurie Anderson (I’m kind of culturally illiterate in a lot of ways). Here’s her official website, and here’s what wikipedia says about her. There’s an album of the soundtrack of this film (all the music and spoken words) and you can listen to samples of the tracks.
One last thing. I went to see this with my dear friend J., an artist. When we stumbled out of Cinematheque, raw and wide-eyed, with the experience not yet processed, unable to say anything about the film yet except wow and that was amazing, she suddenly turned to me and said heartfeltly “It makes me want to go home and make art!” And because I had been feeling the exact same thing, I suddenly felt so understood and connected both to her and to the world (such a rare feeling for me, being connected); I threw my arms around her and there was no more need to struggle for words, because she had said what needed saying.
So we went our separate ways into the night (-23C, which according to the converter I found online is -10F; does that make sense? Bloody cold) and I shivered in the car all the way home with visions of a project which may or may not eventually take root. But I could feel the weight and shape of it in my mittened hands and I was so happy.