A Dog Called Money

Review by David Jenkins @daveyjenkins

Directed by

Seamus Murphy

Starring

PJ Harvey

Anticipation.

PJ Harvey is a national treasure. ‘Rid of Me’ is an all-time classic album.

Enjoyment.

Is it possible to learn too much about the provenance of an artwork?

In Retrospect.

The recording aspects are good, but the travelogue material just doesn’t work.

Seamus Murphy’s globetrotting musical travelogue with PJ Harvey is a self-defeating creative exercise.

Strip away all the celebrity tittle-tattle, gossip and innuendo, and when we talk to artists we’re primarily interested in how they go about making their art. What’s your inspiration? What’s your method? What’s your secret? Kudos to singer-songwriter PJ Harvey for being at the centre of a film which attempts to lay the creative process horrifyingly bare.

The desire to exhibit the unseen bedrock of her songs takes its most literal form in a live installation at London’s Somerset House, where Harvey and her musical collaborators record the album ‘The Hope Six Demolition Project’ in a purpose-built, sound-proofed rock box where onlookers can spy on the recording session through one-way mirrors and monitor the evolution of each song.

Footage of the sessions only makes up half of Seamus Murphy’s
conceptual documentary A Dog Called Money, as we also follow Harvey on a whistlestop tour of Syria, Afghanistan and Washington DC as she searches for sociopolitical grist for the lyrical mill.

At one point she’s sat on the stoop with kids in DC’s predominantly black Anacostia neighbourhood, looking a little bemused as they freestyle for the camera and talk blithely of their many run-ins with gun violence. In Kabul, the pair visit a music shop and watch an all-male choir in the midst of an intense prayer chant. They see poverty and desolation, and paraphrased versions of Harvey’s diary-like narration can later be heard during the London recording.

On one hand, Harvey’s creative generosity is laudable, and she is self-critical enough for this entire endeavour not to seem trite. Yet seeing the creative process writ large has the effect of diminishing the impact of the music, divesting it of all mystique and ambiguity.

It’s the not knowing where these stories and ideas derived from that causes the listener to paint pictures in their mind. This film is like a fusty album explainer, and it’s really not that much fun.

Published 4 Nov 2019

Tags: PJ Harvey Seamus Murphy

Anticipation.

PJ Harvey is a national treasure. ‘Rid of Me’ is an all-time classic album.

Enjoyment.

Is it possible to learn too much about the provenance of an artwork?

In Retrospect.

The recording aspects are good, but the travelogue material just doesn’t work.

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