As Louis CK says, dogs are a countdown to sorrow. They die. We all do. Yet, that lesson is easier said in passing than stopped to fully mull over because, if you did, you would probably steel yourself from anything good as it will probably come to an end.
Death doesn’t have to be all bad, though. Yes, death and endings and being in the unliving are not exciting prospects and, yes, I have been discussing the matter with my therapist because I am both deeply fascinated and overwhelmingly horrified by the subject. Death is a fact of life, as inescapable as being born (and a subject that is equally as alien). Still, dogs provide us this lesson in caring and compassion, love and life. They show us with their short bursts of living that we can be our best selves and evolve and grow and become something more than anyone ever thought we could be.
Artist and musician Laurie Anderson holds this belief close to her as manifested in her documentary about dogs and death: 2015’s Heart Of A Dog. The documentary (“documentary”) is like a lightly animated art house TED Talk where Anderson literally talks about her rat terrier Lolabelle for nearly two hours. It sounds bad, it sometimes looks bad, but it is one of the fullest expressions of love and life: watching this movie is akin to going to a yoga or meditation class.
The film deals with many things. Anderson explores subjects like September 11, the death of her mother, dreams, making art, dog training, Buddhism, and more while speaking over found footage, photos, and paintings. It is quite reminiscent of an iMovie you wish was jazzed up by more elegant production – but that’s also part of the film’s homey appeal: it’s not about looking good or being technically advanced. It’s about thinking and reflecting on our being via dogs.
And everything is framed around dogs. Lolabelle, her quirky rat much like my quirky rat, is a spirited animal whose life and death are nothing short of remarkable. Anderson explains how the dog escaped death a few times and, like Goya’s The Dog, Lola seemed to constantly be gazing over to the other side, anxious to explore the Buddhist bardo and other post-life in betweens that Anderson tries to work through too. Even when the dog’s health was deteriorating and she lost the majority of her senses, Anderson found ways to make Lola’s life great.
How? By literally teaching her to play the piano.
Again, this all sounds like bullshit art talk – and it kind of is. But, for writers, it’s also a film that shines as a filmic essay, a storytelling program designed within a vacuum of Anderson’s making. That makes it so much more than a “documentary” but instead a DVD contained one woman Moth show. It’s inspiring in terms of creating art by and for yourself and on whatever subject you want. We should all make our own Heart Of A Dog.
You will also probably maybe definitely cry during the movie. I certainly let a big fat tear dribble down my face a few times as I opened my mind to ruminate on life and death. Through a dog, a subject like death is indeed sad but also makes a lot more sense. They ground the subject. With the help of Anderson’s gentle voice turned occasional avant garde warble, we’re given passage to the other side as brief as it may be.
Heart Of A Dog isn’t for everyone. In fact, most of you will hate it. But for the few, for the open minded, for those who want to transcend and explore and open their brain just a little wider via visual essay, it is a must.
Plus, dogs. Plenty of them.