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Monday, November 2, 2015

Laurie Anderson's Heart of a Dog Interview/Review by Gary Kramer

Laurie Anderson's Heart of a Dog

Laurie Anderson’s wistful, elegiac film, Heart of a Dog, uses animation, video, home movie clips, and dream sequences to chronicle not just her life with Lolabelle, her rat terrier, but more generally how humans and animals communicate, their shared sense of companionship, and our processes of death, grief, and coping with trauma.

A Clip from Youtube of Heart of a Dog

GMK You once described language as a virus from outer space. You get political in Heart of a Dog when you discuss the homeland security advisement, “If you see something, say something. Hopefully, it’s nothing.” You also talk about Lolabelle understanding 500 words and the speech a vet gives when he suggests putting an animal down. Then there’s mention of Wittgenstein’s notion that “language has the power to create the world.” What are your thoughts on the power of language, which has been such an important theme in your work and in this film?

LA I think it’s never very satisfying to share your dreams with someone else. In fact, when somebody goes, “I had this dream…” I go, “Oh please, don’t tell me your dream, please!” No! It’s not a film you saw! It’s something like a hallucination that only you have a code for. Now that is a wonderful thing—stories only you appreciate, only you value, and only you understand. That is a really underrated thing in our culture. You have this wonderful dream world that’s only for you. Let’s keep it that way. Don’t try to tell other people what’s going on. It’s like when only you think something is funny. That’s really great. But why do we share stories? Because otherwise, life is too lonely, you know? 

GMK I interpret it such that you are telling these things to me. It’s episodic, and therefore it doesn’t feel like a monologue. As a viewer, you get into some stories, and sometimes you just watch, but I made all these connections and took it all in. I could see the film again and have a totally different response.

LA I think I was exploring this idea: Does language help you in a situation like that? The Tibetans would say it does, because they wrote a whole book about it. They are expressions of grief. The no crying thing is about trying to understand what is going on not with your own emotions, but to pay attention to what’s going on with the drama of the person who is dying and dead. Their idea is to focus on their transition, which will also be used when you die. But it’s to focus on their death, not your reaction to it.

GMK You mention in the film about your mother loving you unconditionally. When did you love Lolabelle unconditionally?
LA It’s different with a dog or an animal. They don’t have the same conditions that humans do. They have a default mode of unconditional love. I don’t know why they love us—we are sources of food, and we are alphas, and to some extent we protect them and give them rides in cars. Cats do not want rides in cars. That’s a really fundamental difference! I think that using an animal to talk about love is a different kind of relationship. For me, dogs represent a kind of purity that isn’t often found in human relationship, which are more complicated. Very few people will have the joy that dogs do when running to the door to say hello. They’re very openhearted.
Heart of a Dog is currently playing at Film Forum in New York through November 3, 2015.
Gary M. Kramer is the author of Independent Queer Cinema: Reviews and Interviews and the co-editor of Directory of World Cinema: Argentina.
Excerpts from Gary Kramer's Interview/Review of Heart of a Dog. I know I shall love it.

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