Laurie Anderson is a visionary artist and a pioneer in electronic music as well as a marvelous storyteller. She employs her voice, with its songlike phrasing (as in her 1981 hit single “O Superman”), along with instruments—some of which she invented—video and other acoustic props to weave her tales.
In her new film, Heart of a Dog, her beloved Rat Terrier, Lolabelle, takes center stage in an imaginative, lyrical, confessional narrative. As Anderson describes it, “It’s a series of short stories about telling stories.” Quoting David Foster Wallace, she adds, “Every love story is a ghost story.”
Over the course of this absorbing 75-minute film, she considers the deaths of her mother; her dear Lolabelle, whom she “co-parented” with husband Lou Reed; her friend Gordon Matta-Clark; and finally, Reed himself in 2013. Times critic A.O. Scott praised it as a “philosophically astute, emotionally charged meditation on death, love, art and dogs.” It’s also about learning to “how to feel sad without actually being sad,” as her Buddhist teacher instructed.
While the film offers a visual representation, it’s really Anderson’s Zen-calm narrative that conveys its message. Both film and score open with her recounting a dream in which she gives birth to Lolabelle. She then uses the dog as a springboard, digressing to a variety of other topics but always circling back to the dog. One of our favorite segments, “Piano Lessons,” is about how Anderson and Reed set up keyboards on the floor for their old dog (who was going blind), and used a clicker to train her to make music. As Anderson wryly observes, the dog’s playing “was … pretty good.”
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The movie, which has a limited run, will be aired on HBO in 2016. Luckily for dog lovers and Anderson fans, Nonesuch just released its critically acclaimed soundtrack.