Filmmaker-photographer Bruce Weber’s latest documentary is ostensibly a love letter to the favorite of his five golden retrievers, True, but that’s just a thin premise for his presentation of a smorgasbord of seemingly unconnected subjects. It contains, in a series of unsmooth segues, musings on 9/11, a segment on Australian surfers, the plight of Haitian refugees, home movies of the late British actor Dirk Bogarde, the horrors of Vietnam as documented by photographer Larry Burrows, an excerpt from the old Rin Tin Tin TV series, and an abundant helping of the 1946 movie The Courage of Lassie which starred Weber’s good friend Elizabeth Taylor. The sound track is only marginally less eclectic, featuring jazz and vintage pop as well as Marianne Faithfull reading Stephen Spender’s poem The Truly Great and Julie Christie reading from Rainer Maria Rilke’s Sonnets To Orpheus.
The film is like a visual and aural scrapbook of things that have given Weber pleasure in the past, and things that have made him wary. Inevitably, some bits are more interesting than others, but since so much is jammed into the 70-some minute film, nothing is satisfyingly explored. A full-length documentary on Bogarde, also a friend of Weber’s, would have been preferable to the dangling tidbits offered — a few scenes from 1965’s Darling (in which he co-starred with Christie) and the aforementioned home movie snippets. Some of the material, such as the Australian surfers and the Haitian refugees, has been more extensively covered in other films (which Weber, at least, does acknowledge).
Despite its hodgepodge approach, the message of the film is clear enough: Weber likes peace, symbolized by his frolicking dogs, and hates war, represented by a lot of borrowed documentary footage. It’s an admirable stance, no doubt, but Weber’s thoughts on the subject of human conflict tend toward the gauzy philosophy of the perpetually naive. And although projecting our own perceptions onto our pets is one of the pleasures of having them, Weber’s anthropomorphism goes a little overboard when he talks about True being traumatized by 9/11; he says that now whenever a plane flies overhead the dog looks up at the sky — but what dog wouldn’t look up at a plane under any circumstance? It’s all a little precious and, given the subject matter, annoyingly trivializing.
Weber has assembled a film more teasing than intriguing. At times it’s lovely to look at, presenting some interesting juxtapositions, but never wades in past the shallows.
Showing at 7:30 p.m., Monday, Feb. 7, at the Detroit Film Theatre (inside the DIA, 5200 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-833-3237).
Richard C. Walls writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail [email protected].