Heart of a Dog
Show Hide image

Laurie Anderson’s Heart of a Dog is a film about life and loss – and a particularly empathetic rat terrier

Heart of a Dog feels more than simply human: a consideration of the relationship between life, death and love, that focuses on the passing of Anderson’s dog Lolabelle.

I have long believed that dogs are not simply animals, but the purest expression of love on our grubby little planet. You don’t have to look far for proof of this. New evidence springs up daily: today, tabloids are covering a viral video of reunion between man and dog after two years of separation. It is a love that feels more elevated even than that between humans; I understand what Johnny Depp means when he says, “the only creatures that are evolved enough to convey pure love are dogs and infants”.

It is apt then, that Laurie Anderson’s dreamlike movie Heart of a Dog feels more than simply human: a consideration of the relationship between life, death and love, which focuses on the passing of her dog Lolabelle. In Lolabelle’s death, we feel echoes of the death of her mother, and her husband (Lou Reed), though Anderson herself is never so literal. Her attachment to Lolabelle is a powerful relationship in its own right, as well as a microcosm for Anderson’s human relationships, her relationship with herself, and a broader, spiritual relationship that is never truly pinned down; “dissolving, like moonlight, in a cloudless sky”.

She flits between subjects with ease and rhythm – connecting terrorism, parenting, loss, surveillance, language, philosophy, divorce and death with somehow coherent threads. Her voice is musical, the original score captivating: in many senses, this is more of a visual album than a movie. Anderson weaves illustration, photographs and speckled footage (entirely taken by herself) on screen, but her eerie spoken word stories and textured instrumentals are what allows it to feel unified yet disparate, and are the true strengths of the film.

Anderson constantly questions her own process: “I want to tell you a story about a story,” she begins, before recounting a horrific accident she had as a child, an anecdotal incident she often recites to new friends. But, during the act of one retelling, the horror of the incident for others around her hits home. She realised, “the thing about this story was that I had only told the part about myself. And I’d forgotten the rest of it. And that is the creepiest thing about stories”.

Lou Reed, Laurie Anderson and Lolabelle (Getty)

There is something creepy about Anderson’s movie, which is filled with ghosts – of friends, parents, lovers, strangers, bystanders in 9/11, artists, and, yes, dogs. But the more ghostly it gets, the more hopeful it feels. “When Lolabelle died,” Anderson says, “finally, I saw it. The connection between love and death. And that the purpose of death is the release of love.”

Lolabelle herself is a mysterious figure in this piece. Anderson tells us she believes her rat terrier “learned the great skill of empathy” on a camping trip in Canada, with her previous owner, a divorcing man trying to figure out how to go on. Lolabelle paints, and sings, and plays piano. She’s adaptable, and social, and has her own tabs in West Village stores. The only thing she doesn’t seem to be able to do is talk.

Anderson tells us at the beginning of the film that when her mother died, she tried to communicate with animals on the ceiling. Confused, scattered phrases left her mouth as she passed. “It’s been my privilege and my – my honour, to be part of this experiment – this experience.” After 9/11, Anderson spends some time away from New York with Lolabelle, hiking in California, spending hours only in each other’s company. It was “an experiment to see if I could talk with her”, Anderson tells us in her wistful tone. But the gorgeous scenery of their trip proved distracting. “What happened was, more or less, beauty got in the way of the experiment.” If life is an experiment, Anderson’s film implies that it is one constantly put off by overwhelming moments of grief, love and beauty.

Heart of a Dog is showing at selected cinemas in London from 20th May.

Anna Leszkiewicz is the New Statesman's deputy culture editor.

Harry Styles performing in London on April 11. Photo: Hélène Pambrun
Show Hide image

How Harry Styles’ European tour was transformed into a LGBT-positive safe space

And all thanks to two fans, 50 volunteers and 28,000 pieces of paper.

After 21 dates, 20 cities, 19 suits, 14 countries and one kilt, Harry Styles’s European tour came to a close last night in Dublin. Some of his most dedicated fans attended a handful of dates in a row, organising their own queuing systems, and arranging tributes to the Manchester terror attacks. “Feel free to be whoever you want to be in this room,” Styles said at every gig, always bringing an LGBT flag on to the stage as he performed. As ever, his shows were a always collaboration between artist and audience to create a safe space for teenage girls and LGBT fans.

On this tour, two fans in particular went above and beyond to create a visually striking, affirmational statement. Ksenia, 17, and Luna, 20, came up with the Rainbow Project, a labour-intensive and involved plan to invite those attending the London dates of the tour to participate in a giant rainbow running around the circumference of the O2 Arena. The project involved distributing 14,000 pieces of differently coloured paper and instructions each night to different seat sections: fans were then invited to put the paper over their phone torches during the song “Sweet Creature” to create a rainbow light effect.

Ksenia and Luna tell me they have been fans of Harry's since his One Direction days: in 2014 and 2012 respectively. “We are really proud of how far he’s come,” Luna explains, “from being afraid of what people thought of him, to confidently pulling off wearing a dress!” The two say they were inspired by Harrys support of the LGBT community: “We just wanted to do something for him.”

Such fan projects aren’t new. As the writer Aamina Khan explains, One Direction fans – who are known for collectively organising to win polls, drive obscure songs to become chart hits, or raise money for charities the band have supported in the past – have been organising fan projects around the rainbow flag since 2014. As the presence of such flags became more and more visbile, Styles in particular started engaging with both the symbol and its message: draping flags around him speaking of love and equality to the crowd. Last year, fans brought hundreds of #BlackLivesMatter signs to Harry Styles concerts.

But Ksenia and Luna’s project seems by far the most complex and challenging so far. “It took us three months to prepare the project,” Luna explains. “We had a group of about 25 volunteers for each show who helped us to hand the colours out. Almost everyone in the arena got a colour, so we made 28,000 pieces in total for the two days.”

Aside from the hours and organisation needed to produce, print, cut out and distribute close to 30,000 small pieces of paper, they both feared that the strict security teams at venues like the O2 wouldn’t take too kindly to their plan. “Obviously you are scared that what you planned doesn't work out,” Luna explains. “But we were pretty optimistic.”

“The venue sadly did take 5,000 pieces away from us on the first night, as we needed permission to do the whole thing – which we didn’t know. The next day, the O2 and its venue manager Rachael reached out to us, and we were happy to have official permission. That night everything worked out perfectly and we’ve never seen something more stunning. It left us speechless.”

“Harry creates wonderful safe spaces each night he steps on stage,” they tell me. “We think we speak for everyone when we say that we’re thankful for that.”

Luna says that the inclusive feeling of Harry Styles concerts is a collaboration between both audience and artist:  “He brings a message, and we as fans chose what we can identify with or look up to. The combination of that creates the feeling at a concert.”

The Harry Styles tour has left Europe, but it’s far from over. As it moves on to Australia, Asia and America, more creative fan projects are undoubtedly on the way.

All photos by Hélène Pambrun.

Anna Leszkiewicz is the New Statesman's deputy culture editor.