I am not interested in death itself. The typical process itself seems rather dull if I am being honest, however I am fascinated by how people react to death. The narratives they construct and the rituals they inlace to make the death seem like it actually makes logical sense. Of course, death is usually the most logical thing if it is looked through a simple cause and effect system but we are not binary beings. Death confuses us because we define our future life by the life we have lived and expect things to be removed from the cycle in a clear. Death rarely makes sense within the story we tell ourselves until we can see its consequences. The process of making sense of this is the process we see in Laurie Anderson’s essay film Heart of a Dog.
Anderson does not approach the film conventionally instead creating a visual companion to such a personal narrative that it feels like it is taken directly from someone’s journal. I say someone’s journal because while the film is deeply personal I never felt that it was Anderson herself speaking through the film. I know it is and it is based off of her life but within the film itself it seems to be a more general narrator, someone who could be anyone which allows the film to be more relatable. We are not entering the mind of a celebrity, or at least I did not feel so, which grounds what is an already very complex film.
The problem with the film is sadly is the visuals. While there is a lot of very interesting ideas within the narration and some of the segments, but over all the visuals are full of this false texture that often distracts. Normal texture play on real film adds depth and complicates the visuals allowing for an interface and conflict that creates an actually experience. The problem with adding in a texture filter in editing to digital files feels removed from the subject of the shot. With such sincerity in the narrative of the piece the false nature in the appearance undercuts it to a certain point.
Essay films have an interesting place in the modern world of filmmaking. There is a fine line that needs to be drawn between essay films and video essays. There are many great video essay across the internet but they operate on a much more direct level than in the realm of the artistic. They teach where essay films present an idea. That distinction provides us with an interesting insight into what this film is trying to do. While there are statements made about death and our experience with it there are no answers. When there are no clear answers we start to explore the ideas ourselves. That is where the power lies in properly made essay films, the do not tell you the get you to think and when you are directed to think in a certain situation you are effected on a more personal level.