While making her 2016 album “The Hope Six Demolition Project,” the musician PJ Harvey did something rare: She opened her recording process to public viewing. She and her team constructed a studio in London that allowed fans of the musician, or the merely curious, to look in on Harvey and her musical collaborators as they laid down tracks.
As “A Dog Called Money” chronicles, this was the culmination of a longer workflow. The songs began as writings from when Harvey, with the photojournalist Seamus Murphy, who also directed this picture, spent time in Kabul, Kosovo and Washington D.C.
Seeking inspiration, Harvey visited not just sites of blight but also ones of joy, such as a musical instrument shop in an upper floor of a storefront in Afghanistan. She reflected on her own privilege — exploring the ruined records and pieces of furniture in a bombed-out Kosovo house, she noted “I’m stepping on their things in my expensive leather sandals.”
A scene where a D.C. gospel choir contributes to one of Harvey’s songs is a little uncomfortable. Harvey is respectful and kind. But even under the supposed best of circumstances, white artists vouchsafing a form of authenticity by inviting people of color to augment their work can look a little patronizing.
The most compelling sections of this movie take place in that temporary London studio. Harvey is detail-oriented, good-humored, intimately involved and encouraging of her fellow musicians. The tunes she crafts for the resulting record are intricate and eclectic, but still honor the raw directness of her early work.
A Dog Called Money
Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 34 minutes. Watch through Film Forum’s Virtual Cinema.