In light of the criticism directed at elements of PJ Harvey’s 2016 album ‘The Hope Six Demolition Project’ upon its release, a film documenting the writing and recording process of said album might have attempted to work towards addressing them. Instead, A Dog Called Money, which premiered last week at the Berlinale, is an unfocused and unhelpful vanity project, that offers very little to the people it takes its inspiration from.
Harvey accompanied filmmaker and photographer Seamus Murphy (who directs this documentary) on trips to Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Washington DC to collect ideas and material for the album, footage of these excursions blended into the film with shots of the album being recorded in the basement of Somerset House. A studio was designed especially for the process, with one-way glass allowing spectators to observe the album’s creation inside the clinically white box without disturbing Harvey and her band. It’s all a little too eye-roll inducing to take seriously, and results in a poorly conceived portrait of the artist and her ideas.
In an early clip from a visit to Kosovo, what feels like an attempt at self-awareness is made as Harvey explores an abandoned, looted country house. “I’m stepping on their things, in my expensive leather sandals,” she says, in the breathy tones she adopts for the moments of narration throughout the film, but this revelation doesn’t linger. We see her, notebook in hand filled with her thoughts that will later form this narration, in an effort to bring us closer to the spaces we are witnessing her in. The notes, however, are distant and uninformative, and even the studio footage which could have been illuminating does nothing to change this.
For die-hard fans of PJ Harvey this might be more fascinating, but for the everyday observer the film is uncomfortably self-important and not particularly enlightening. The research trips around the world feel exploitative and misjudged - what is Harvey actually offering by making these quick observations and turning the lives of disadvantaged communities into a musical installation piece safely back in London?
As Leah Garrett, who works for the Community of Hope initiative in DC wrote back in 2016, “we’ve been tackling some of the challenges you named in your song. We improve life in a place that you call the ‘pathway of death’.” Harvey’s response is non-existent, and this documentary does more to cement these criticisms, highlighting further a lack of awareness or action.
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Words: Caitlin Quinlan
Photo Credit: Maria Monchnacz
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