Kirschenbaum Productions presents
A Dog's Life: A Dogamentary (2004)
"This is a story about Chelsea, a 13-pound Shih Tzu, and me, Gayle, a 117-pound single woman, and our life together."- Gayle Kirschenbaum
Stars: Chelsea the Shih Tzu Diva, Gayle Kirschenbaum
Other Stars: Albert Maysles
Director: Gayle Kirschenbaum
MPAA Rating: PG for (mild language)
Run Time: 00h:36m:13s
Release Date: 2005-11-08
DVD ReviewI like dogs—even had a few. I have no real problem with cats, but allergies have always kept me at a distance (sorry, Intrigo). I have a free-running house rabbit. Pets, in my book, are and always have been a-ok. But there have always been those folks who transmogrify their relationships with pets into the attempted equivalent of raising human children, and that always sets my eyes rolling up into my head. That's why Gayle Kirschenbaum's short film, A Dog's Life: A Dogamentary, borders on being unsettlingly cutesy for me.
Kirschenbaum is one of those "my dog is my baby" kind of people (she refers to the animal as her "dog-ter"), and while I don't really care how much she spoils and caters the 13-pound Shih Tzu Chelsea, I just don't necessarily want to watch her do it. And the first half of this 35-minute film—which originally aired on HBO—is just that, with Kirschenbaum paralleling her single New York City life with that of her dog, and how both are in search of a husband. She dresses up Chelsea in cute outfits, hooks her up with a nausea-inducing doggie-cam in order to meet men, and visits doggie spas on the path to theoretically finding true love. And to add to the weirdness, Kirschenbaum recruits legendary documentarian Albert Maysles (Grey Gardens, Gimme Shelter) to offer his insight (he finds the title "too contrived"), as well as serve as cameraman on a few scenes.
All of this bizarre anthropomorphic activity by Kirschenbaum, including the altered reality admonition that she doesn't have time for a job because taking care of Chelsea eats up all of her time, starts to become disturbing, and maybe just a little sad. I got the impression she was being upfront about her odd pampering of Chelsea, at least in direct relation to how it would benefit her as she tried to find a man, and just when I thought I would not be able to endure the entire 35 minutes of cooing and babying the tone and direction suddenly change as a result of the events of 9/11.
It's at this point that Kirschenbaum finds what becomes the new theme for her film, discovering how special her dog is when it comes to making people feel better, and she enlists Chelsea as a therapy dog, visiting hospices to brighten the spirits of the sick and dying. If I wasn't so skeptical about her intentions (maybe it's just the way she presents herself), I'd readily buy into Kirschenbaum's new direction with Chelsea, but there was a nagging sense that she used the misery of others as a way to save a meandering and sometimes shrill home movie documenting a woman and her dog. The scenes in the hospice between dog and patient are actually little moments of genuine sweetness in a film that often feels obnoxiously vacant, though it is difficult to deny the effect the easy-natured Chelsea has on people.
I just don't want to think I was being manipulated.
Rating for Style: C+
Rating for Substance: B-
|Aspect Ratio||1.33:1 - Full Frame|
|Original Aspect Ratio||yes|
Image Transfer Review: The 1.33:1 full-frame transfer has all the modest imperfections you would expect in an inexpensively made documentary, from flat colors to heavy grain. Image clarity fluctuates depending on the location, and while it is never razor sharp, there are some scenes that appear sharper than others, but the infrequent doggie-cam bits look generally quite awful and may require a Dramamine or two.
Image Transfer Grade: B-
Audio Transfer Review: Audio is presented in 2.0 stereo, in a mix that exhibits some minor clipping in spots, but otherwise delivers narration and interviews that are clear and discernible. The quality is more than adequate for the material, and the frequently used Dog's Life song sounds fuller than the voiceovers, but this isn't the type of documentary that requires a lush, multi-channel delivery.
Audio Transfer Grade: B-
Disc ExtrasAnimated menu with music
Scene Access with 7 cues and remote access
Extras Review: A Director's Cut (51m:35s) of Kirschenbaum's film is included as an extra, and it runs about 15 minutes longer than the standard version. It's cut a little differently (especially during the opening), and accentuates more of the cutesy, pre-9/11 angle than does the formal HBO version.
Kirschenbaum answers a handful of inquiries about the film in Director's Q&A (08m:02s), answering such questions as What's Up with the Bathtub Scene? and How Does a Dog Become a Therapy Dog?, and then balances this with some frothy Reactions (04m:08s), in which a number of folks comment briefly on how much they enjoyed the film. The most curious extra is the short Albert Maysles Interview (05m:57s), and the legendary documentarian—who served as cameraman on some scenes in A Dog's Life—chats with Kirschenbaum about his own reactions to her story.
Lastly, there's a music video (05m:05s) of the Dog's Life song, performed by Dave's True Story. Not so much a music video as a standard "band performing onstage" clip, it is in nonanamorphic widescreen, presented in black and white.
The disc is cut into seven chapters.
Extras Grade: B-
Final CommentsMy cynical side seems to think Gayle Kirschenbaum morbidly lucked into a convenient plot twist (9/11) for her short documentary that originally began as an annoyingly lightweight look at a single woman and her pampered pooch. I'll readily admit to being quite moved during the film's second half, and I want to think Kirschenbaum was sincere in her efforts to use the ridiculously cute Chelsea the Shih Tzu as a therapy dog, but sometimes it was difficult to accept it as anything more than forced dramatics on the director's part.
It's clear that the dog works wonders as a healing force on the hospice residents. It's the director intentions I have doubts about.
Rich Rosell 2005-11-10