I, A Dog

(7 minutes, 16mm, 1970)

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An autobiographical film ballad about dodging dog dung in New York City.

“A hit 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, Montreal Star)

Best Documentary, 3rd Canadian Student Film Festival.

I,A 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.

“The city 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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