Directed by award-winning photojournalist and filmmaker Seamus Murphy, A Dog Called Money charts the creative process behind PJ Harvey’s 2016 studio album, The Hope Six Demolition Project. Murphey and Polly Jean travel to Kosovo, Afghanistan and Washington D.C. There, “Murphy collected images and Harvey collected words”, resulting in her journalism-rock hybrid in which she cast herself as an observer of the world, as well as this frankly bewildering documentary.
This rock reportage repeatedly flip-flops between seeing the singer-songwriter on her worldly jaunts and in the recording studio, progressively revealing a repetitive, frustratingly superficial chronicle of the ills of the world. The literal nature of Harvey’s lyrics works when listening to the songs themselves; however, when the lyrics are matched with the albeit well-shot footage that inspired them, they become crippling prosaic. We descend into cringey diary-to-music territory, and there seems to be a lack of self-awareness on show, a white middle-class brand of guilt that perspires from puddle-deep observations about the harshness of life in war-torn areas. Worse, there are moments that unwittingly invite you to consider where creative inspiration ends and cack-handed cultural appropriation begins. For instance, there’s something unsavoury about the juxtaposition of ghettos and warzones with Harvey cut-and-pasting sounds she’s heard on her travels with her overwhelmingly white musicians.
A Dog Called Money ends up feeling at odds with itself: its noble intentions are never in doubt but they clash with the tone, which oscillates between gap-year student travelogue and overly-earnest box-ticking exercise.
Above all though, the mark of a good music doc is how it motivates fans to revisit back catalogues, as well as inspire novices to seek out and discover a new artist. A Dog Called Money fails here too. Best wait another two weeks for the release of Amazing Grace, the long-lost concert film that brilliantly captures the late Aretha Franklin at the height of her powers – now that’s a music doc worth your time.
A Dog Called Money | Directed by Seamus Murphy (UK, 2019). Starts Nov 14.
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