For Lola and Lou with love

Artist Lau­rie An­der­son’s memo­riam for her mutt is a charmer, while Lou Reed makes his pres­ence felt, writes

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FILM -

HEART OF A DOG Di­rected by Lau­rie An­der­son. Fea­tur­ing Lau­rie An­der­son, Lou Reed, Lo­la­belle Club, IFI, Dublin, 75 min Some­where in the mid­dle of Lau­rie An­der­son’s ir­re­sistible memo­riam for her pet ter­rier – it’s much more than that, but there we start – she tells the sad story of her time in hospi­tal fol­low­ing a back­break­ing fall as a child. It oc­curs to her that, when dis­cussing the in­ci­dent, she tends to leave out mem­o­ries of the noises at night. The next morn­ing a bed would be empty. Those were the sounds that dy­ing chil­dren make.

Are you pay­ing . . . at­ten­tion?

Amid the home movies, an­i­ma­tions, the staged rem­i­nis­cences and the ex­per­i­men­tal flour­ishes, we catch a brief shot of Lou Reed, her late hus­band, look­ing un­char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally jolly at the beach. Like the dead chil­dren, he is the un­men­tioned pres­ence that hangs over the project. It sounds as if ad­dress­ing the sub­ject di­rectly would be as un­com­fort­able as star­ing straight into the sun.

Now 68, An­der­son has, over the past 40 years, ex­erted a sin­gu­lar in­flu­ence on the cul­ture. In the 1970s, af­ter grad­u­at­ing from Barnard Col­lege, she be­came a pi­o­neer in New York’s aus­tere per­for­mance art world. There was a great deal of ob­scure work in down­town base­ments. She de­vel­oped a vari­a­tion on the vi­o­lin that had au­dio­tape where the bow­strings should be. Odd records emerged on ob­scure la­bels.

Yet, un­like so many of her ter­ri­fy­ing con­tem­po­raries, there was a warmth to her work that even­tu­ally found a place in the main­stream. One still has to pinch one­self at the knowl­edge that O Su­per­man, her min­i­mal­ist, in­ti­mate epic, be­came a num­ber-two hit in the UK 25 years ago.

The voice is un­changed. It still pauses . . . at the most un­ex­pected . . . mo­ments. It still feels as com­fort­ing as the sound of crin­kled wrap­ping pa­per or sim­mer­ing cof­fee. Most of what it says here is very wise.

Like so many peo­ple tack­ling mem­o­ries of New York in the early part of the cen­tury, she in­cludes thoughts on the aftermath of 9/11. For month and months, she notes, hunks of the build­ing were trans­ported down the av­enues of the city to some undis­closed lo­ca­tion. As the weeks crept on, she and her friends be­came used to a ca­sual mil­i­tari­sa­tion of the na­tion. Sub-ma­chine guns at air­ports were once a rare sight.

An­der­son also man­ages to tell us about her dif­fi­cult re­la­tion­ship with her mother. She re­calls sav­ing twin siblings from the ice and drag­ging them back home. “I never knew . . . you were so . . . strong,” mom said. (I think I have the pauses in the right place.)

How does all this fit in with the story of Lo­la­belle, her late rat ter­rier? Even while watch­ing, one finds the con­nec­tions hard to iden­tify, but it is a mea­sure of the film’s bril­liance that the shifts rarely seem jar­ring.

The dog was res­cued af­ter be­ing aban­doned by a re­cently sun­dered cou­ple (who get their story told). She lived with An­der­son and, even af­ter go­ing blind, was gen­tly co-opted into her projects. Only a heel would fail to smile at the footage of Lola be­ing coaxed with treats into play­ing along with the An­der­son band. She even re­leased a Christ­mas record.

For all the wis­dom and eru­di­tion on dis­play here, Heart of a Dog ends up re­mind­ing us that even the bright­est folk can be sweetly sen­ti­men­tal about their an­i­mals. Towards the end of Lola’s life, the vets be­gan sug­gest­ing that An­der­son have the an­i­mal “put to sleep”. She knew bet­ter. She was prob­a­bly right.

Only one thing jars. An­der­son seems to have turned to Bud­dhism in later years and keeps re­fer­ring to “my teacher”. Does some­body so bright re­ally need such a thing?

Never mind that. Heart of a Dog is a very nice thing. Once again, An­der­son makes the ex­per­i­men­tal de­li­cious.

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