Star Rating:

A Dog Called Money

Director: Seamus Murphy

Actors: PJ Harvey

Release Date: Friday 22nd November 2019

Genre(s): Documentary

Running time: 94 minutes

Strange but kind of hypnotic too

English musician and songwriter PJ Harvey (full name Polly Jean Harvey) accompanies Irish photojournalist Seamus Murphy as he travels to Kosovo, Afghanistan and Washington DC. She keeps notebook of her observations to inspire songs and eventually a best-selling album. Said album based on Harvey’s findings is recorded in Somerset House, London, and titled ‘The Hope Six Demolition Project’. The public was invited to analyse the recording of the album as an installation.

‘A Dog Called Money’ has an unusual, uncanny feel as one watches thanks to the avant-garde nature of PJ Harvey’s music and the enigma surrounding the artist herself. Even for the viewer who is not an alternative music aficionado, it lulls one into a hypnotic state. Tonally it’s closer to a film like ‘Cinema Paradiso’ than music documentaries set in studios like ‘Sound City’ or ‘It Might Get Loud’.

Structurally, it cuts between the recording of ‘The Hope Six Demolition Project’ and actuality footage from various countries. Harvey makes a fascinating central subject tying the two strands together, and through her eyes and the lens of Seamus Murphy’s camera, the people she observes and makes fast, intimate connections with, thanks to a mutual love of music, become fascinating too. Her voice is calming and hypnotic, whether she is singing or walking around reciting prose, often her words matching up directly with what we’re seeing (an elderly woman walks around jangling keys, some kids “roll dice in the shade”). Murphy takes in and divulges some beautiful cinematography of the landscapes and individuals.

Syria is shown to be a place badly damaged by war but not lost or despairing. Later, the doc delves into religion as well as we see various traditions and forms of mass and worship. We observe chaotic scenes at the Greece-Macedonia border, and there’s a speech by Donald Trump during the Trump-Pence campaign gesturing towards the political commentary of Harvey’s album. Dotted in between, the album recording and musical experimentation is highly interesting, but the doc does become somewhat repetitive and aimless. Thus the average cinemagoer may grow tired. The aforementioned music pundits will likely get the most out of the movie.