A DOG CALLED MONEY (95mins, 2019)
Musician PJ Harvey strolls around cold Kabul, searching through the bomb-shocked and abandoned houses, trying to decipher who lived there. In back alleys occupied by musicians and tailors she shares instruments, and witnesses the rapture of the Sufis at the Mosque. The shadow of the US military’s menacing white blimp-drone hovers over, while its soldiers play war games on their computers.
Forced by the pressure of the crowd, a woman slides down a hill in the rain-soaked Northern-Greek refugee camp in Idomeni. She valiantly hangs on to her sack of belongings while attempting to cross into Macedonia. The line of people – adults and children – appears endless. Seamus Murphy’s camera stays close, filming the wet and worn-out but determined faces. This is starting to feel like Koyaanisqatsi (1982) for a new era.
Between 2011 and 2014, musician PJ Harvey accompanied photographer/filmmaker Seamus Murphy, a seasoned witness of tragedy, as he travelled to Afghanistan, Kosovo and finally Washington DC; the heartland of where a lot of the world’s damage has sprung. Guided by both the Washington Post’s Paul Schwartzman, and resident Paunie, who present the maligned neighbourhood of Anacostia, this is an example of the deep division between black and white America, illustrated by the juxtaposition of Washington’s icons, death spots, and temples of religion.
By January 2015 they were back in the basement of London’s Somerset House. PJ Harvey consolidating her experiences and observations into an album, The Hope Six Demolition Project – the ordinary details mixed with the extraordinary moments. Watched through one-way mirrors by members of the public who were invited to the Recording In Progress, the observer now becoming the observed, albeit through one-way mirrors.
Visual artists are often brought into war zones – photographers, painters, filmmakers. Musicians? Not as often. There’s an initial slight feeling of dark tourism, but Harvey and Murphy are witnessing what people are either fleeing, resisting, ignoring, or don’t have access to. As Kosovo’s Father Sava states: “We want to belong, it’s human nature to look for the clan, to get together.”
It’s hard to deny the importance of bearing witness, whatever form that may take. Song writing has a long cultural history of doing this and whether you like PJ Harvey’s music or not, her interpretation only adds to this. Murphy’s film reflects the disconnected-interconnected world, exposing the disparate lives that co-exist locally and globally. His captivating collage shows the creative process, the craft, and the collaboration to bring it to life, while not diminishing the power of the images and the people they encountered along the way.
Find out what else he is doing here: www.seamusmurphy.com
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