|'The cinematic equivalent of being stuck on a long train journey sat next to a stranger who won't shut up and yet has nothing interesting to say'.|
Just as in life you will inevitably come across people you don't gel with, so it is as a film fan that you will occasionally experience a piece of cinema that you fail to click with in any way. Such is my experience with Heart Of A Dog, which for its entire running time felt like the cinematic equivalent of being stuck on a long train journey sat next to a stranger who won't shut up and yet has nothing interesting to say. Directed by performance artist and musician Laurie Anderson, Heart Of A Dog is ostensibly about Anderson's relationship with Lolabelle, her pet rat terrier who went blind in her later years before her death. In actual fact, Anderson allows her focus to wander between topics, with everything from Tibetan Buddhism to the Department of Homeland Security getting a look in.
Of the latter, the director (who also provides the film's voiceover) at one point compares the DHS slogan of "If you see something, say something" to a quote from the philosopher Wittgenstein. Anderson clearly believes this parallel to be both incredibly droll and sharply insightful, even revelatory, about post-9/11 American society. In actual fact, it just comes across as both pretentious and pompous by the director, two words that become ever more applicable to her entire film. Anderson is also clearly in love with both her own opinion and her own voice - something that, at sixty-eight years old and with a career that can be traced back nearly half a century, the performance artist is perfectly entitled to be. But it's a quality that lends her film an unbearably self-indulgent tone from start to finish.
Anderson often refers back to her childhood and adolescence, clearly looking for sympathy over what appears to have been a tough period in her life, but making this almost impossible through her callous tone towards almost everyone: her mother, her siblings, even the doctors who treated her when she suffered a crippling back injury at the age of twelve. At one point the director describes being read a children's story whilst in her hospital bed being like slow torture because she had been reading Dickens and Dostoyevsky on her own prior to her accident. Even delivered with Anderson's dry sense of humour, the anecdote simply serves to show that the artist was just as self-involved as a child as she is now.
Despite being only seventy-five minutes in length, Anderson's execution throughout makes Heart Of A Dog a tiresome slog from beginning to end. With her beloved pet as a semi-regular reference point for the director throughout, there's initially hope of Lolabelle providing some brief respite when she crops up throughout Anderson's film. Alas, the dog's contributions are made up of artsy pretentious antics - "playing" the piano, making plaster casts of her paws with her therapist - that, if they weren't being performed by an animal belonging to a performance artist, would feel more at home on some rarely-watched YouTube channel.
The 29th Leeds International Film Festival runs from 5th-19th November 2015 at venues around the city, including Hyde Park Picture House, Cottage Road Cinema and Leeds Town Hall. Tickets and more information are available via the official LIFF website.