Last night she dreamed she was pregnant. She dreamed she was giving birth. The doctors handed her the new-born in a blanket. It was her dog. A Rat Terrier, specifically. But of course for the dog to come out, the doctors had needed to get the dog in first. First they had to stitch…
Few artists couple the sublime with the ridiculous, the profound with the banal and the adventurous with the bonkers with the same clear sighted confidence and humour as performance artist, musician and filmmaker Laurie Anderson. Fewer still are able to combine all this with an enviable degree of accessibility and mainstream recognition. The audience for the screening I attended of her second feature film Heart of a Dog, for instance, comprised UoN lecturers and what seemed like a local chapter of diehard dog lovers. And everyone was rapt.
Heart of a Dog follows Anderson’s general MO of compiling disparate, random threads and thoughts and then hanging them precisely, from whatever chosen medium. 7″ single and foreign policy & motherhood (the eight and a half minute UK no. 2 hit ‘O Superman’), concert film and William Burroughs (1986’s Home of the Brave), performance art and The State of America Today (the impossibly ambitious eight hour United States). Heart opens with a note of surrealism (the aforementioned dog caesarian), and draws from Buddhism, the death of Anderson’s own dog Lolabelle and husband Lou Reed, the surveillance state, and finger painting dogs. This is the kind of free association that could easily render its subjects alternately glib or worthy, but in Anderson’s hands it becomes neither and both, to the film’s benefit.
She remains in control of her every tangent, astute and precise despite the seemingly random nature of everything we’re witnessing. Whether she’s discussing Wittgenstein or making shoes for pets out of her blind dog’s own clay ‘sculptures’, it’s all assured. Like a hyperactive shaman whose narration never races faster than recitative, Anderson creates a hypnotic spell where the parts may not cohere into a singular statement, but it doesn’t really matter either way anyway.
Heart of a Dog is composed principally from home movies, footage shot on phones and stock material, but the key element which holds this whole steady kaleidoscope loosely yet carefully together is, as always, Anderson’s hypnotic, mellifluous voice. That voice is almost alchemical in its power, rendering the banal magical and the absurd even more so. With an always conversational, unpreachy style, her soliloquies take on a spontaneous, improvisational feel. Even now, four decades after she rose to prominence, Anderson speaks how we do, about things we would never think of. Like dog clogs.
Simultaneously slight and profound, Laurie Anderson’s few banal platitudes are, as ever, presented amusingly enough to justify their existence.
Click here for more Film Reviews
Images sourced from Dogwoof