film ballad about dodging dog dung in New York City.
with audience and jury… an absurd, irreverent report on
canine pets and their owners (or vice versa)… Hancox’s
spiky sense of humour was well received.” (Martin Melina,
3rd Canadian Student Film Festival.
Dog, the first of the autobiographical films, expresses a
sense of place through a comic contemplation of the artist’s
displacement. The film opens with a shot of a white screen over
which appear a series of still photographs, which include images
of an old man’s weathered face and fishermen displaying
their catch. Offscreen, Hancox sings a song based on an old PEI
ballad that tells how he left his “native land” to
find his “fortune” in New York. This prelude serves
to originate the hero at home. The ballad rhyme with these images:
since it is based on a local tune, it locates Hancox alongside
the photos as one who was once of-though now from-this place.
There is a wider
cultural dimension to Hancox’s rooting himself in this way.
The title of the film ironically figures the disproportion between
the rural singer and the metropolitan domain he has entered. Except
this relationship is soon turned on its head, since Hancox depicts
New York as an island of dogs rather than glamorous urbanites.
The second section of the film consists of a text edited from
Hancox’s correspondence with his mentor George Semsel.
is full of dog shit,” a letter tells us, which is meant
literally, since the text goes on to report that “New Yorkers
spend 769 hours a year scraping dog shit from their shoes.”
Following the text, a montage of dogs and their owners serves
as a depiction of the city. The mecca to which the young Canadian
artist has entered has literally gone to the dogs. I, A Dog
is not only an ironic portrayal of the émigré Canadian
artist assuming, not all together happily, a new cosmopolitan
identity, but also serves as a reminder to Canadian filmmakers
that the grass is not always greener on the other side of the
border (it may, however, be better fertilized). (Imagining the
Past and Place: Memory and Landscape in the films of Richard Hancox
by Lianne McLarty Originally published in a catalogue: Richard
Hancox (Toronto: Art Gallery of Ontario, 1990)
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