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SPECIFICATIONS
  • 1.78:1 Widescreen
  • English DTS-HD 5.1 Surround
  • English subtitles
  • 1 Disc
FEATURES
  • New conversation between director Laurie Anderson and coproducer Jake Perlin
  • Footage of Anderson’s 2016 Concert for Dogs
  • Trailer
  • Insert featuring an essay by film critic Glenn Kenny

Heart of a Dog

Blu-ray
Reviewed by: Chris Galloway

Directed By: Laurie Anderson
2015 | 75 Minutes | Licensor: Abramorama

Release Information
Blu-ray | MSRP: $39.95 | Series: The Criterion Collection | Edition: #846
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Release Date: December 6, 2016
Review Date: December 5, 2016

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SYNOPSIS

Heart of a Dog marks the first feature film by multimedia artist Laurie Anderson in over thirty years. A cinematic tone poem that flows from a sustained meditation on death and other forms of absence, the film seamlessly weaves together thoughts on Tibetan Buddhism, reincarnation, the modern surveillance state, and the artistic lives of dogs, with an elegy for the filmmaker’s beloved rat terrier, Lolabelle, at its heart. Narrated by Anderson with her characteristic wry wit, and featuring a plaintive, free-form score by the filmmaker, the tender and provocative Heart of a Dog continues Anderson’s five-decade career of imbuing the everyday with a sense of dreamlike wonder.


PICTURE

Laurie Anderson’s Heart of a Dog receives a Blu-ray release from the Criterion Collection. The film is presented in 1080p/24hz high-definition on this dual-layer disc in the aspect ratio of 1.78:1.

This is another film that is fairly hard to talk about in terms of its picture quality since most “issues” are either source/equipment related or purposely applied. It’s very experimental in nature, and Anderson filmed it using multiple devices and sources, while also creating animations that are hand drawn and animated using Adobe After Effects. Anderson layers the images and also applies some filters and effects that, in some cases, roughen up the image. All of this material has then been edited and modified digitally, and what Criterion has used as the source for this release are these final digital files.

I have no doubt that what Criterion presents on this Blu-ray is as accurate a reproduction as possible to what is on those files (though Criterion notes they did do some colour correction) but some artifacts are still present. Anderson used a number of different devices to record footage for her film: most of it was shot using a Canon 5D Mark II but footage was also recorded using a GoPro HERO3 Silver Edition, a Parrot AR.Drone 2.0, and even an iPhone. Some of the footage has a very jerky effect, with shimmering and ghosting both present. I suspect some of the footage was interlaced originally, which explains most of the artifacts. Some of her animations also present some shimmering effects, which is very noticeable in the stippling of her art as the image shifts around. Other artifacts are also present, like banding in some shots, and then there is standard-definition footage that has been inserted that has the expected compressed look.

So yes, there are artifacts present, but all of it really just seems to be limitations of the equipment used for these sequences. Most of the footage shot was with the Canon and this footage looks really strong. Detail is high, colours look great, and artifacts aren’t as plentiful, the image looking very crisp and very clean. As mentioned previously she also adds filters and layers images over each other, but they look sharp and clear. She also uses film footage, primarily from her family’s own 8mm home movies. This footage has held up spectacularly well all things considered (she mentions in the included interview on this release that this stuff was basically sitting in a closet for half a century) with the colours looking rather pleasing. She transferred this footage herself, and then applied distortion effects in places, but even then she’s done a very good job and these sequences still look like film.

Ultimately, this is how the film is supposed to look. Yes, there are artifacts, and there are other little problems, but it all comes down to how it was filmed/recorded and put together. They also do lend to the film’s overall look. It is, in the end, a strong presentation.

8/10

All Blu-ray screen captures come from the source disc and have been shrunk from 1920x1080 to 900x506 and slightly compressed to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.

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AUDIO

Criterion includes the film’s original soundtrack here in DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround. Criterion also includes a “non-music” soundtrack presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 surround. That track only features Anderson’s voice-over narration and nothing else.

The regular soundtrack is a very active, very robust presentation, which takes significant advantage of your surround set-up. Like the visuals of the film its sound design is very experimental, creating a disorienting atmosphere at times. Sound effects and music move beautifully through the speakers and work their way around the viewer, with sharp direction and splits. The low frequency is very active, even getting noticeably heavy in places, but it doesn’t drown out the main audio or become overbearing. Sound quality is excellent, very clean and crisp, and range and fidelity are both superb. Anderson’s voice-over narration is clear and easy to hear. There are some distortions to the track but they are intentional. It ultimately suits the film.

9/10

SUPPLEMENTS

The supplements are disappointingly slim, though at least good. The best and most significant supplement is probably Retelling, a 41-minute interview between director Laurie Anderson and producer Jake Perlin. Though the two spend most of their time talking about Heart of a Dog they also touch on her career and work as a whole, even talking a great deal about her previous film, Home of the Brave. In a nice addition we also get details and footage from some of her various performances, and she gives backstory and explanations to them. It’s a fascinating overview of her work and I loved hearing her talk about the technical aspects of what she does, and explains why she uses the techniques she does.

There are then two deleted scenes totaling about 3-minutes. One aims to “illustrate the Buddhist concepts of time,” while the other “tells the story of a nun who makes a pilgrimage wearing a bag on her head.” I lifted those quotes from the notes. They’re interesting on their own though I had trouble picturing where they would have appeared in the film.

There is then about 6-minutes’ worth of footage from Anderson’s Concert for Dogs, a performance done in Times Square in January of 2016 to honour 9/11 first responder dogs belonging to the NYPD, MTA, and so forth. Through a 360° camera (which is very disorienting I might add) we see Anderson perform in front of a small audience and their canine companions. Both the audience and the dogs in the audience have head phones, which the music apparently played through, and the dogs get a higher frequency sound through theirs, which amusingly starts the dogs barking, pretty much on cue. Eventually clips from Heart of a Dog play on a select number of billboards in Times Square. It is only an excerpt (and it sounds as though this performance only lasted something like 12-minutes anyways) but I thought it was a great sample of her work outside of film. Sadly it’s the only straight bit of footage we get short of some quick samples in the previous interview.

Lolabelle’s Christmas Card is an odd but amusing little feature, and I’m admittedly taking completely it at face value. Basically it’s 5-minutes’ worth of footage of Anderson’s dog “playing” a keyboard that seems to be pre-programmed to play a number of Christmas songs before closing with “When the Saints Go Marching In” (that’s not a Christmas song, is it?)

The disc then closes with the film’s theatrical trailer. Criterion then includes an insert, featuring a great essay on the film by Glenn Kenny, who appears to have been especially effected by it (he makes a note of pointing out his mother had passed away a few months before seeing the film). There’s also an interesting little mini-booklet including, showcasing some of the images from the film over 12-pages. It also makes use of vellum sheets to layer the images in the booklet similar to how images are layered in the film. It’s a nice little touch to the release.

So, there are a few nice touches and I enjoyed the material overall, some of the smaller features being fairly fun. I’m surprised there isn’t much more about Anderson’s other work, though. Considering that the interview made use of a lot of restored footage from Home of the Brave it is possible more material is being saved for a future release of that film, but I was still a bit surprised by the slim pickings here.

5/10

CLOSING

It’s not jam-packed but it’s a nice little special edition and Criterion gives it a sharp audio/video presentation that should please admirers of Laurie Anderson’s film.


View packaging for this Blu-ray

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