Robin CliffordWhen documentarian/photographer Bruce Weber ("Let's Get Lost") was despairing of the state of the world post 9/11, he found a personally poetic outlet for his thoughts that was also a celebration of his beloved Golden Retrievers - he wrote a missive to his youngest pup, "A Letter to True."
Weber's conceit, that the job and beauty of his dogs are a hopeful balm for the horrors of the outside world, is an interesting idea, but the filmmaker has created a work too personal to be appreciated by others. Disjointed pieces of old movies ("The Courage of Lassie"), archival war footage, home movies and dogs at play are strung together by Weber's letter, his favorite musical standards and poem narration by Julie Christine and Marianne Faithful.
After a black and white sequence featuring an unidentified female fellow photographer artfully posing with a clutched bedsheet, Weber begins telling True how he knows he will always listen. 'After 9/11, I'm always worried you won't be there when I come home,' globe-trotting Weber tells his dog, seen cavorting with his fellow canines along the beach at Weber's home. Then he jumps into old home movies of Dirk Bogarde and his lover, narrating the story of two men whose blissful existence in Provence with their Corgis was ended by sickness. A woman with a dog named Little cares for her burros and wrestles in the mud with her grown children, followed by a bombing mission in WWII. What in the world is this?
Eventually, Weber's theme is recognizable, but never cogent, and, sometimes, downright perplexing. A sequence on Martin Luther King comes out of left field. Phil Ochs pines for the past in "Time Was," but Weber juxtaposes 'Time was when a man could have his land, He could farm it with his hands, he was free to make a stand' against those silly rednecks again, riding ponies backwards, ruining the sentiment.
Animal lovers looking for a canine paean will find small nuggets to savor. Weber's photography of True and his playmates is stunning, all orange golden fur against pale yellow sand and green aqua water. Several inserts show the dogs being filmed by steadicam operators as well. A black and white montage of dogs being walked in New York City is set to Rodgers and Hart's "Manhattan." A friend? or neighbor? recounts the story of adopted goldie Polar Bear who attached himself to another dog Little Bear and lay over its body for 45 minutes, grieving the older dog's death.
Weber also includes heartfelt recollections of people like Life photographer Larry Burrows and how his Aids stricken friend was cheered by a kind phone call from Weber acquaintance and fellow dog lover Elizabeth Taylor, but again, this is mind-wandering, that, while more enjoyable that some of his other sequences, fails to come together thematically.
"A Letter to True" has some lovely moments and music, but it is an indulgence to expect audiences outside of immediate family and friends might find it of interest.
Filmmaker/photographer Bruce Weber has a genuine love for the earth’s creatures, particularly his gang of golden retrievers and a cat named Tyson. He extends his undying affection for his animal brood to his philosophies of life and uses his love for the faithful canines as a metaphor for hope and world peace in “A Letter to True.”
This is a very personal film, more a treatise on the auteur’s view of the world than a “documentary,” that begins with the introduction of his beloved dogs – Palomino, True, Sailor, Polar Bear, Little Bear, Big Sky, Hope, Rain, Gus and Cloud (and their feline mascot Tyson) – and continues with his examination of the relations between man and his favored beasts.
Weber interweaves, along with his heartfelt homage to his pooches, home movies of Dirk Bogard in Provence, France; a visit to a burro ranch owned by animal-loving rednecks; conversations with another dog lover, Elizabeth Taylor; the life and death of veteran Life magazine photographer Larry Burrows, who was killed by friendly fire in Vietnam in 1971; the plight of illegally detained Haitians in the US; surfing and surfers; a segment on Martin Luther King, and more.
Unfortunately, helmer Webber does not maintain focus with all of his disparate story lines that cover loads of territory. His love for animals, especially his dogs, is the underlying thread of hope in “A Letter to True” but this statement is confused by the variety and different directions of Weber’s other streams of his consciousness.
If you can get by the confusing message(s) and different viewpoints given over the course of “A Letter to True” and concentrate on the dog stuff, you’ll get a heartfelt, honest view of a man and his dogs. (In one touching sequence, Weber tells of two of his goldies, Little Bear and Polar Bear. When Little Bear, the mentor to Polar Bear, dies, the younger dog exhibits an eerily human-like period of grieving that has the most impact in the film.)
A Letter to True” – an actual letter written over the course of the film to Weber’s favorite retriever, True, essentially pouring the writer’s heart out to his dog – is, in part, a number of interesting discourses on subjects near and dear to the filmmaker’s heart. But, the disjointed nature of the work kept me from embracing it. Although, I wouldn’t mind playing with all of the puppies! I give it a C.
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