A rumination, a meditation, a memoir, a tone poem -- the variety of ways by which one can describe Laurie Anderson's "Heart of a Dog" is a testament to its singularity, fluidity and, more generally, the amorphous nature of its director's art. The celebrated performance artist -- and writer, musician, video artist, soliloquist -- recently lost her beloved Lolabelle, a rat terrier. The death moved her to create this amalgam of piquant stories, engaging animation, humor, skewed observations, vibrant images -- some shot on her iPhone -- buoyed by music composed by her, or by her husband, Lou Reed, who died in 2013. That Anderson's mother and husband died within a few years of Lolabelle brings death to the fore of the film, although as Anderson says, her intent is to heed the advice of her Buddhist teacher and "feel sad without actually being sad."
Such is the film. Melancholic would be a way of describing what is a decidedly unconventional visual treatment of an interior monologue, albeit one being concocted for public consumption and with seeming spontaneity. There's a sort of anti-aesthetic at work in "Heart of a Dog," a sense that to make things pretty would be to make them banal. But what is pretty? And don't some of the most precious moments in life spring from the banal?
"Heart of the Dog" doesn't set out to answer many questions, just the important ones, and its words -- Anderson is always about the words -- are like little search engines or, were they laid end to end, a towline by which Anderson pulls the viewer into her states of mind?