MUSIC: Across Afghanistan, Kosovo, and Washington DC, musician PJ Harvey and photojournalist Seamus Murphy craft a beautifully shot, sensitively edited film on observation, experience, and the creative process.
JoAnne Velin
Jo-Anne Velin is a Canadian journalist & film director living in Europe, creating long-form documentary films with a very special focus on authentic sound.
Published date: February 18, 2019

At its heart, A Dog Called Money is a gentle observation of the creative process of English musician Polly Jean Harvey aka «PJ Harvey». The film documents Harvey’s long arc absorbing newfound material amongst people living hard lives in hard places – fragments of their experience along the spaces and lands they occupy, then transforming this into new music.

Accompanying veteran Irish photojournalist, Seamus Murphy, to Afghanistan, Kosovo, and Washington D.C., Harvey remains the principle subject of his first documentary film. Narration is sparse, composed from Harvey’s extensive observational notes. Some of these words become lyrics, growing organically in collaboration with her band of musicians over an intensive five-week session. This session takes place strictly inside a small soundproof, purpose-built studio within a much grander room at Somerset House where the musicians cannot sense the small clusters of visitors watching through one-way mirrors. Though the film shows a great deal of give and take between the musicians – a balance suggesting respect and complicity – Harvey remains quietly in control.

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The distance between visitor and artist

The formal distance between the outside visitors and the unaffected musicians inside mimics Harvey’s own position as an outsider  – on the mangled, muddy roads of Kabul, walking through ruins of the Afghan Ministry of Defense, or in the pews of an Afro-American congregation. Throughout each and all, Harvey appears self-conscious and still as if becoming the blank ground where audiences are able to project their own readings of her emotion and intention. This part too is performance – it is what she does, this is her work.

«What is shown of her encounters evokes what we believe we already know.»

A Dog Called Money puts the locations and people Harvey comes into contact with at her service. The focus is not to learn about them but rather how she synthesises what she sees and hears into her music. At most, what is shown of her encounters evokes what we believe we already know. There is no attempt to give the floor to the dirt-speckled Afghan boy staring into …

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