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Winsor McCay -- The Master Edition

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A Dog’s Life falls far short of being the Best of Show.


Dogter and his person dance about love
Dogter and his person dance about love

Awkwardly billed as a “dogamentary,” A Dog’s Life tells the tale of a woman, Gayle Kirschenbaum, and her Shih Tzu “dogter,” Chelsea, as they look for mates in New York City. It’s a cute little piece of independent filmmaking, but it’s not as clever or funny as it could’ve been.

Culled from 80 hours of footage, the DVD presents both the original HBO/Cinemax feature, clocking in at “ruffly” 36 minutes, and a 52-minute director’s cut. For all intents and purposes, the shorter cut is totally unnecessary.

Director Kirschenbaum is an Emmy award-winning producer whose work has appeared on Discovery Channel, Lifetime, The Learning Channel, FOX, NBC, and CBS. Kirschenbaum, who is indeed an attractive woman, also has the distinction of being the only known female Howard Stern impersonator (do with that piece of trivia what you will).

Nonetheless, the fact that Kirschenbaum, a seasoned veteran of TV production, has another 79 hours of material lying around is fairly shocking considering the overall lack of meat in the final product.

Barking Up the Wrong Tree

The proceedings start out light enough, with the dynamic duo in search of love in the Big Apple. Unfortunately, what should be a totally quirky, goofy production most of the time feels contrived, gimmicky, and borderline psychotic. Given Gayle’s constant fawning over her dog and stagey interactions with people, it’s hard to give a Shih Tzu about what’s going on.

The doggie doo gets its deepest when Gayle tries to arrange a “marriage” for Chelsea. The suitor’s owners are an odd enough couple, but the segment falls flat and feels extremely forced. Watching two grown women dance around with their dogs after agreeing on a doggie engagement is… nauseating. With romance blossoming for Chelsea, but floundering for Gayle, things turn serious following the events of 9/11. Chelsea ultimately finds her true calling as a therapeutic pet visiting hospitalized patients and bringing calm and peacefulness to those who hold her.

The material toward the end does indeed tug at the heartstrings, but the overall result is a mishmash that misses the right mix of kibbles and bits.

DVD Extras

The main “bonus” is the extended cut of A Dog’s Life, which should’ve served as the main presentation with the shorter cut thrown in as an extra bone.

The other materials are highlighted by a 6-minute interview with the legendary documentarian Albert Maysles (he also shot part of the movie’s hospice section).

Also on hand is an 8-minute Q&A with Kirschenbaum. One question that was not raised: Why call it a “dogamentary” instead of a “dogumentary”? “Dogumentary” rolls off the tongue more easily.

In terms of shamelessness, 4 minutes of “Reactions” fit the bill; the director admits to showing only the good stuff. While there are some very personal revelations as to why the movie clicked with some viewers, overall this bit is extremely self-serving.

There’s also a music video of the title song by Dave’s True Story. It’s a decent black-and-white performance clip.

Picture and Sound

Chelsea, manning (so to speak) the doggie cam (a.k.a. the “Chelsea cam”), isn’t exactly the next David Lean, but even so, the picture (1.33:1) and sound (in Dolby stereo) are serviceable. This is a small, intimate story that doesn’t rely on vibrant visuals or sonic crescendos.