Inspiration can strike at any time. But if you’re an artist like PJ Harvey you may choose to go in search of this illusiveness. A Dog Called Money is a music documentary that depicts the process that spawned the album, The Hope 6 Demolition Project. The result is a beautifully-shot film that can be uneven at times due to its lack of narrative arc and its choice of certain scenes.
Harvey first worked with award-winning photojournalist, Seamus Murphy on some videos for Let England Shake. Fast forward a few years and the pair decided to collaborate again. The pair would travel to Kosovo, Afghanistan and Washington D.C. She would collect words while he would capture photos and videos. The results could have been absolutely everything or complete nothingness. It was a creative risk but one that ultimately paid dividends because it resulted in the 2016 album, The Hope Six Demolition Project and the book, The Hollow of the Hand.
This documentary can be interpreted in a number of different ways. It has been several years since the record was made, so the scenes at London’s Somerset House have lost some of their initial impact. At the time, the band recorded behind glass and allowed the public to watch in a way that was reminiscent of Regurgitator’s Band in a Bubble. This clean and safe space provides a very stark contrast to the other scenes in the film where poverty and war are the prevailing themes.
There are moments where it is confronting to witness these other lives. It can also seem a bit too voyeuristic and like you’re engaging in misery porn. Consider Harvey walking through a shell of a deserted house filled with broken things in her self-proclaimed “expensive leather sandals”. It feels wrong to observe other’s pain and misery for your own entertainment, even with a charming guide like Harvey steering you through. This divide isn’t helped when Harvey’s own ideas are presented in a rather disconnected voiceover with no extra context or information. We may be exploring and discovering new things, but at what price?
Those who are fans of Harvey’s will enjoy the access that is offered here. They will enjoy watching the presentations of some of the songs that were written and recorded, but didn’t make it onto the album. These people may be able to get past the film’s more indulgent sequences. They might appreciate this for what it is: a fly-on-the-wall documentary and an intimate look at an unlikely subject. Harvey is a notoriously-private artist so it is strange that she’s letting people in to see even part of her creative process. Others may be left wanting a film that answered a few more questions or was it a tad more pointed in its approach.
A Dog Called Money is ultimately an ambitious artistic experiment where the worlds of music and video collide. Harvey is both fascinating and unassuming, and this film captures some aspects of her creative process. It can be a challenge but so is modern life in a dog eat dog world.
THREE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
A Dog Called Money screened as part of the 66th annual Sydney Film Festival. For more information on remaining screenings and tickets head HERE.