Artist side­steps sen­ti­ment, goes be­yond puppy love

Winnipeg Free Press - Section E - - ARTS & LIFE - By Michael Phillips

HEART of a Dog shouldn’t work. At all. But its maker, writer-di­rec­tor Lau­rie An­der­son, has spo­ken in in­ter­views of the value of hav­ing good “tweedar,” in or­der to ward off twee ex­cesses and pre­cious­ness in risky un­der­tak­ings.

In this 75-minute cine-es­say, gor­geously wrought, the most durable of Hy­dra-headed per­for­mance artists pays lov­ing homage to one dog and, more obliquely, one man.

The dog is Lo­la­belle, a rat ter­rier who lived 12 years un­til 2011. The man is An­der­son’s hus­band, singer-song­writer Lou Reed, who spent 21 years with An­der­son be­fore his death from liver can­cer in 2013. She made the film, cre­ated the an­i­mated seg­ments, rigged up the dog-cam shots, dove into fam­ily home movies and com­posed a sim­ple, aching mu­si­cal score, as a way of ex­plor­ing love and loss.

It sounds sen­ti­men­tal, icky, even, but Heart of a Dog sparkles with its cre­ator’s wis­dom and droll philo­soph­i­cal insight. The film’s den­sity re­calls many of An­der­son’s the­atri­cal projects — full of vis­ual lay­er­ing, au­ral ma­nip­u­la­tions, flurries of lan­guage flashed on screens.

Here, though, there’s a sim­ple and be­guil­ing hook. Lo­la­belle acts as the con­duit, the mis­tress of cer­e­monies for her own trib­ute. We see footage of An­der­son and Lo­la­belle hik­ing in the moun­tains of north­ern Cal­i­for­nia. As the dog ner­vously eyes the sky for preda­tors, An­der­son re­calls the fear in her fel­low New York­ers’ eyes in the post-9/11 era. That metaphor shouldn’t work; it’s dan­ger­ously facile. But An­der­son’s tweedar is nearly un­fail­ing. We go with it. We see An­der­son’s world through her eyes, and her dog’s.

In one sec­tion of the film, her Bud­dhist in­struc­tor’s teach­ings on the dif­fer­ence be­tween feel­ing sad and be­ing sad turn into a de­sign for liv­ing, cathar­sis in the wake of loss. How all this works to­gether, the ca­nine as­pects with the mus­ings on Amer­ica’s manic devo­tion to sur­veil­lance, de­fies logic and even lu­cid de­scrip­tion.

Many doc­u­men­tar­i­ans have used home movies, child­hood relics from the age of Ko­dachrome and funny win­ter hats, to deal one way or the other with their lives on screen. Heart of a Dog is the lat­est, and one of the most del­i­cate. The film cul­mi­nates in the retelling of an in­ci­dent tak­ing place when An­der­son was a pre­teen, in­volv­ing her younger broth­ers, a stroller on the ice and a po­ten­tially fa­tal accident.

Watch­ing Heart of a Dog, I was flung back to the early Rea­gan years, when An­der­son’s cult hit sin­gle O Su­per­man mes­mer­ized mil­lions. In that song, which sounds like it was recorded tomorrow, the strange robo-qual­ity of old an­swer­ing ma­chines (“Hello? This is your mother. Are you there? Are you

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