A Dog Called Money
“The woman’s old / The woman’s old and dressed in black / She keeps her hands / She keeps her hands behind her back / Imagine what / Imagine what her eyes have seen”, Chain of Keys, PJ Harvey.
Musician PJ Harvey is the subject of photojournalist Seamus Murphys unorthodox music documentary, A Dog Called Money. The film follows the creation of the album The Hope Six Demolition Project that came out in 2016. The duo sets off on a three-part journey to Afghanistan, Kosovo and predominantly African-American neighbourhoods in Washington D.C. In each location inspiration and material is gathered, the second part of the film is the actual recording of the album in London.
On her voyage, Harvey acts as a watchful observer with a notebook. A poet, collecting the substance that binds life together. She doesn’t discriminate, rather she inserts herself in the daily life of others, untainted by prejudice or fear. A recording of her thoughts run throughout the film as a voice-over.
Through the documentary, we get a glimpse of the people behind the lyrics. As the woman, Zagorka in Kosovo, who walks with her hands behind her back. In her hands holding a keychain with keys she is safeguarding for her neighbours who has fled the village during the war, and presumably will not be coming back. The meeting results in the very powerful lyrics to the song Chain of Keys.
As Harvey sets out to explore places that experience conflict daily, she walks through a house that has been looted. The people that once made a home here are long gone. She reflects on the bizarre in that she is walking on bits and pieces of what is left of the people’s belongings in her expensive leather sandals, acknowledging her privilege.
Time and timelessness is a significant thread throughout the film. The flowing movement of the storytelling as the camera sweeps over landscapes, cities and people like a breeze. A wind that touches you one second and in the next is no longer there.
The second part of the film takes place in a specially constructed studio in Somerset House in London. Harvey opens up her studio as an installation. People unseen watching listening behind oneway soundproof glass as the album is recorded. The white, enclosed studio becomes artwork on its own. The previously collected sounds and impressions create soundscapes. Sometimes a chant becomes a chorus. Harvey and her musical team skillfully encapsulate the chaos, the beauty, stillness and rebellion of our time in the music created.
The film is well worth seeing and is currently available for rent on Amazon.