By Dennis Hartley
(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on November 21, 2015)
I love Laurie Anderson’s voice. In fact, it was love at first sound, from the moment I heard “O Superman” wafting from my FM radio late one night back in the early 1980s:
And the voice said: Neither snow nor rain nor gloom of night shall stay these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.
‘Cause when love is gone, there’s always justice. And when justice is gone, there’s always force. And when force is gone, there’s always Mom.
And so it goes, eight minutes of stream of consciousness/minimalist electro pop bliss, vaguely apocalyptic, yet oddly endearing. It was The Voice…at once maternal, sisterly, wise, reassuring, confiding, lilting, impish. Hell, she could read the nutritional label on a box of corn flakes out loud…and to me it would sound artful, thoughtful, mesmerizing.
“That” wondrous voice can be heard all over the soundtrack of a new film by its owner called Heart of a Dog (in limited release and likely to be coming soon to an HBO near you). “Mom” is a recurring theme here as well. As is the dog of the title, a beloved rat terrier named Lolabelle. Sadly, Mom and Lolabelle’s appearances are posthumous. The spirit of her late husband Lou Reed is present too; never directly mentioned, but palpable. You could say that Death is Anderson’s co-pilot on this journey to the center of her mind. But it’s not a sad journey. It’s melancholy at times, deeply reflective, but it’s never sad.
It’s hard to describe the film; I’m struggling mightily not to pull out the good old reliable “visual tone poem”. (Moment of awkward silence). Okay, I blinked first…it’s a visual tone poem, alright? Even Anderson herself is a somewhat spectral presence in her own movie, which (like the artist herself), is an impressionistic mixed media mélange of drawings, animations, video, and even vintage super 8 family movies from her childhood.
It’s probably just me (it usually is; I live alone) but I see parallels with Allen Ginsberg’s Kaddish, which was likewise prompted by the death of his mother. Like Ginsberg’s poem, Anderson’s film is a free-associative collage of childhood memory, Buddhist philosophy, ruminations on life, death, art, and grief therapy. Unlike Ginsberg’s poem, however, Anderson includes footage of her dog playing piano. What more do you want?