Theater of Cruelty

On a tour with PJ Harvey

A Dog Called Money
Regissør: Seamus Murphy
( Irland/Storbritannia)

HARVEY / : You don't know PJ Harvey and her music from before, maybe A Dog Called Money make you more curious about this artist.


A Dog Called Money is a close observation of the creative process of English musician Polly Jean Harvey, also known as PJ Harvey. By seeking out people who live under difficult conditions, the film documents how Harvey transforms these fragments of experiences into new music.

Harvey follows Seamus murphy, an Irish veteran of photojournalism, to Afghanistan, Kosovo and Washington (DC) and becomes the main character in Murphy's first documentary. The sparse narrative page is taken from Harvey's full observation notes. Some of these words turn into lyrics that grow organically in collaboration with the musicians of her band during an intense five-week period. The sessions take place in a small, soundproof studio built inside a much larger room in Somerset House, London.

There is nothing wrong with Harvey's role as the foreigner on transit.

The musicians cannot see the small groups of visitors who look at them through one-way mirrors from the other side. Although the film exhibits a good deal of "give-and-take" attitude between the musicians – a balance that indicates respect and interaction – Harvey maintains control in a quiet way.

People and places in Harvey's service

The formal distance between the outside visitors and the intrepid musicians inside is a parallel to Harvey's own position as one who considers herself from the outside as she travels the ruined, muddy streets of Kabul; wandering through the ruins of the Afghan Department of Defense or sitting in the church chairs of an African American congregation. Throughout it all, Harvey appears as self-conscious and at the same time as a blank background, where the audience can project their own interpretations of Harvey's feelings and intentions. This is also part of the performance – this is what she does, this is her work.

Dressed in black attire by Ann Demeulemeester, she confesses her role as something between an archivist and a shaman.

A Dog Called Money places the places and people Harvey comes into contact with – at her service. The point is not primarily to learn about them, but rather the way Harvey transforms what she sees and hears – into music. No attempt is made to speak to the dirty Afghan boy staring into the camera with his nose pressed against a car window; the old Kosovo woman fingering her keys as she walks slowly against a collapsed wall of a house she no longer lives in; or Afghan men participating in ecstatic prayer in the form of a circular song.

Room for interpretation

There is nothing wrong with Harvey's role as the foreigner on transit. Her quest is perceived as real. She is like any sensitive traveler, and it is easy to recognize in her the desire to absorb new structures, sounds, rituals and voices. In Kosovo, she gently raises an object from a rubbish heap in a looted house abandoned during the war two decades ago. She describes walking through the ruins of other people's lives with their own "precious" sandals with some embarrassment, and yet – dressed in black attire by Ann Demeulemeester – she appears as something between an archivist and a shaman.

PJ Harveyi Somerset House in London from the movie "A Dog Called Money".

No one here is invited to understand Harvey beyond her obvious work – nor does she explain anything about herself in the film. There is no visit to her home in Dorset, and only select moments , on the journeys she makes. Where it delves with lovely details, the film gives the audience plenty of room to interpret what's going on inside her.


Perhaps because Harvey is already a famous artist, the audience at the Berlin premiere was noticeably eager and receptive. I wasn't sure how to respond, as the film calls for an emotional commitment approaching voyeurism. Although I wondered if some moments were "pretentious" or just Harvey's response to what she saw, as an outsider, she sensed each place thoroughly before moving on.

If you don't know anything about PJ Harvey's work before you see A Dog Called Money, seeing her collaborative and creative process awaken your curiosity about her musical background before this project.

The movie is shown below Oslo Pix 3-9. June
Velin is a Canadian director and journalist.

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