NZIFF 51: PJ Harvey: A Dog Called Money Dir: Seamus Murphy

For PJ Harvey fans, this film acts as a complement to her 2016 album, The Hope Six Demolition Project. But those unfamiliar with the album, or with PJ, may find this somewhat inscrutable.

Irish photojournalist Seamus Murphy has been collaborating with PJ Harvey for a while now, having created 12 short films around her 2011 Mercury Prize-winning album, Let England Shake.

From 2011 to 2014 Murphy and Harvey travelled to Afghanistan, Kosovo and Washington, DC…Harvey jotting notes in her journal while interacting with the locals…while Murphy filmed.

After their travels, Harvey set up a glass box installation at London’s Somerset House where fans could watch her and her fellow musicians record the resulting album.

The film begins with shots of PJ walking through the streets of Afghanistan, furtively clutching her journal, hidden, in part by the black scarf she’s wearing.  One gets the feeling she’s there to soak up the atmosphere, to gain inspiration for her music. The same goes when we see her in Kosovo and Washington.

The film then jumps back and forth between these “travelogue” scenes and scenes of the recording sessions for The Hope Six Demolition Project.

We see fans pressed up at the one-way mirror while PJ conducts the recording sessions on the other side.

The Hope Six Demolition Project is one of my favourite PJ Harvey albums, so I was looking forward to hearing how it was put together. Sure enough, we get glimpses of PJ, producer John Parish and foiks such as former Bad Seed Mick Harvey, laying down parts…we even hear snippets of unreleased songs…but we never really hear a fully-fleshed out recording, which is somewhat frustrating.

Similarly, the “travelogue” footage is equally frustrating, and at time troubling. There are interesting moments captured when PJ interacts with the locals, but we never really know what anyone thinks or feels about this process. There are times, as when we see PJ Harvey, the lone white person sitting in an all-black Washington DC Baptist Church ceremony, when the smell of cultural voyeurism starts to seep into the shot. I found myself shifting uneasily in my chair during these moments.

So, it’s a mixed bag here…just enough to keep hard-core fans interested, but anyone else will probably want to spent their time more productively.

Marty Duda