A Dog Called Money
- Katherine McLaughlin
- 4 November 2019
PJ Harvey's ninth album is the subject of an ambitious but ultimately arm's-length documentary
The mystique of the artistic process is at the centre of a documentary capturing the creation of PJ Harvey's 2016 album, The Hope Six Demolition Project, directed by photojournalist and filmmaker Seamus Murphy. Harvey's ninth album was recorded at Somerset House in 2015 in a specially constructed room which also acted as an art installation for paying punters – titled Recording in Process – and the film dips into that studio, while travelling around the globe to examine poverty, privilege, greed, racism and religion.
The focus begins on those caught up in the aftermath of war, with Harvey narrating in poetic style and quoting statistics of the dead and the missing. Her poetry, lyrics and music play over Murphy's beautifully composed and emotive shots of Afghanistan, Kosovo and Washington DC, showing the inspiring figures behind the album. It's all very well-intentioned and several songs, such as 'I'll Be Waiting', make for incendiary viewing, as they combine with powerful images of human faces and crumbling locations.
On the other hand, certain thematic strands deserve more attention. Observations about the US storming into volatile situations under the guise of aid, but ultimately leaving a mess behind are not interrogated enough. Harvey's songs are mournful and angry regarding the state of things but, as she meets people from across the world who teach her about their culture and conflicts, you only get a fleeting sense of what their lives are really like.
The completed album openly borrows from these subjects' experiences, yet watching the distance grow between the coverage of their living conditions and how Harvey interprets it in a London venue something feels amiss. Maybe that's intentional, but it's difficult to judge. A Dog Called Money captures turbulent moments in time through creative reportage but it can feel a little arm's-length; as a portrait of global catastrophe and oppressive capitalism, it really needed to dig deeper.
Selected release and on MUBI from Fri 8 Nov.