The Heart of a Dog, film by Laurie Anderson
Laurie Anderson’s movie opens with her describing a dream about the birth of her dog Lolabelle. It then shifts to the days immediately following 9/11 when dust covered the streets of lower Manhattan and there was debris being hauled by boats, and soldiers with guns patrolling the streets. The saying “If you see something say something” — could it be like something Wittgenstein said? Anderson meditates about the police state by discussing philosophers, and running the banal camera work of the surveillance that is all around us, documenting every car on every street as it moves.
The look of the movie starts with scratched and blurry images and then at some perfect moments trees in winter in clear focus appear, or snow falling on a field, or rain dripping down a window. The mesmerizing tone of Anderson’s voice recites the long meditation which ties everything together. She talks mainly about death: of her mother, of her dog, but the movie did not strike me as gloomy. When she taught her dog to play the piano you cannot help but laugh, yet the dog is not a source of ridicule, but of extreme empathy. The work demonstrates how she is trying to feel sad without being sad as her teacher urges her. It is hard to do. You can’t easily separate feeling from being. But her mind and her words are very strong and brave.
After the terrorism attacks, Anderson brought Lolabelle, the true focus of much of the movie, to northern California for among other reasons to find out how many words she could teach it. She had read that dogs could learn 500 words. The beauty of the place soon took over and made her forget that particular mission. Then one day hawks came down and seemed about to pick Lolabelle up as prey. That was when Lolabelle knew that besides everything on the ground, there were dangers from the sky. She began looking up to be sure.
Laurie Anderson came from a family of seven brothers and sisters. They grew up near a lake which froze in the winter which is the source of one story that she tells as if for the first time, and like all great poetry, we discover things about not only the writer but about ourselves.
The Tibetan Book of the Dead says that after you die there are 49 days in which you are dissolving and your thoughts go away. After Lolabelle died, in those 49 days, Osama Bin Laden was killed, and a man claimed that the world was coming to an end, and then he retracted it.
At the end of the movie, during the credits, Lou Reed sings “Turning Time Around.” Anderson’s spoken words demanded close attention throughout her movie. It felt as if what we had been leading up to had arrived, a song about love.