Laurie Anderson’s tail of love lost

HEART OF A DOG directed by Laurie Anderson. A Films We Like release. 75 minutes. Opens Friday (October 30). See listings. 

Laurie Anderson does a phenomenal impression of a small terrier.

We’re talking about dogs, specifically about the defining traits of Lolabelle – her beloved rat terrier and one of the subjects of her new documentary, Heart Of A Dog – and my jerk of a beagle mix Dexter. In a blink, the centred, soft-spoken artist and performer whom I’ve admired for decades just snaps into character, popping her eyes wide with a broad, eager smile. It is uniquely, perfectly dog.

“One of the main reasons that they love us, I’ve discovered, is because we invented cars,” she laughs. “They’re like, ‘Yes!’ They stick their heads out, and it’s the best! And they know we invented cars. They don’t think that they did. They know that we did, and they’re like, ‘All right! This is good!’”

Lolabelle died in 2011, but for a moment Anderson has brought her back to life.

This is also what she does in Heart Of A Dog, over and over again: she evokes the spirit of her lost pet, and confronts the grief that followed that loss. But Anderson also lost her mother around the same time, and then of course there was the death of her husband, Lou Reed, in 2013. The documentary is an attempt to address all of those losses, in one way or another, as well as allowing Anderson to take stock of her beloved New York City after 9/11.

“It’s hard to paste a lot of diverse ideas together and make them work in the same thing,” she says, idly toying with the knitted cuff she wears over her watch so she won’t glance at it during interviews. (She says the cuff keeps her in the moment.)

“My filter for pasting my diverse ideas together was story structure. Because that’s what it’s about: how do you tell a story? There are the short stories you [tell] to express yourself… and then there are the bigger stories, like ‘Where are we all going? What is this thing?’ So 9/11 got in there because of that.”

Another defining disaster is the spectre of climate change, which figures in her film.

“It changes the way we talk about the future,” she says, “which is the big story we live inside, the one we’re making up out of facts. And that’s the one where it’s gonna get hotter and hotter and hotter, and then we’re gonna drown. So how do you live inside that story? Do you do anything about it?”

She cites her spiritual teacher, a Tibetan monk named Mingyur Rinpoche: “He says, ‘You need to practise how to feel sad without being sad.’ It’s a very important idea, because there’s a lot of suffering around, a lot of sad things, and if you push them away, they’re gonna get you. They’ll come back. So he also says, you know, ‘Don’t just sit there and go whoooaaaa. Do something.’ So the something I did was make this movie.”

Somehow we’ve gone from dog impressions to Eastern philosophy. It’s been that sort of conversation – not chaotic, but unstructured, much like life.

“Yeah, yeah,” she agrees. “So ‘express the mess’ is a really great challenge. That’s in a way what I was trying to do in this film, [explore] the messiness of things, and how so many things are unresolved or unexpected. Each death of those friends that I experience has a different, poignant and very amazing dimension, but at its core what I was trying to say is that [death] is a release of love, and that I feel that in each one, in many ways.

“That’s what it comes down to, that’s what it’s really about: everything, everything, everything is about love.”    

Read our review of Heart Of A Dog here. | @normwilner 

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