Gorgeously lensed, photographer-turned-helmer Bruce Weber's docu tribute to his dogs, his friends and his friends'dogs, "A Letter to True" is destined to get tails wagging among animal lovers. Film's lack of structure, superficial treatment of issues and namedropping damage the sense of love. It will fetch fest and upscale TV interest, and won't have the appeal of Weber's feature, his docu on Chet Baker, "Let's Get Lost."
Gorgeously lensed, photographer-turned-helmer Bruce Weber’s heartfelt docu tribute to his dogs, his friends and his friends’dogs, “A Letter to True” is destined to get tails wagging among animal lovers, especially canine fanciers. However, film’s lack of structure, superficial treatment of serious issues — such as Haitian refugees and 9/11 — and gaudy namedropping damage the sense of puppy love. Ultimately, this glossy-coated home movie will probably fetch fest and upscale TV interest at best, and won’t have the same theatrical appeal of Weber’s best-known feature, his smoky-toned docu on Chet Baker, “Let’s Get Lost.”The titular True is one of helmer Weber’s five golden retrievers to whom he writes a letter throughout course of pic. Voiceover narration by Weber flits from personal references to his home life to his travels, work as a professional photographer, heroes, celebrity friends, pained reaction to events of 9/11 and general musings on the state of the world. Like so many films by visual artists, pic seems almost willfully resistant of linear storytelling. End effect is of a richly textured collage held together by free association, a pic that’s pleasing to look at, but never forms a coherent picture. In the mix of original footage plus older stills shot by Weber are Super 8 home movies of Dirk Bogarde, a corgi-lover, whom Weber knew well years ago, and clips showing a young Elizabeth Taylor cuddling a collie in “The Courage of Lassie” from 1946. Occasionally, Weber drops in with weighty thuds, anecdotes illustrating his relationships with such stars. Extra wattage is added by Julie Christie reading in voiceover Rainer Maria Rilke’s “A Sonnet to Orpheus” and Marianne Faithfull sharing Stephen Spender’s “The Truly Great” while visuals show dogs sporting in the surf in slo-mo. In a more serious vein, Weber salutes work of Blighty-born war photographer Larry Burrows, whose snaps of Vietnam changed hearts and minds before he was killed on assignment, and explains how seeing Jonathan Demme’s docu “The Agronomist” moved him to shoot pro bono snaps illustrating the plight of Haitian refugees. No doubt, Weber includes this material out of the sincerest of motives. But its glancing treatment, laid next to shots of his fabulous Montauk, N.Y., and Golden Beach, Fla., houses and celebrity pals, smacks of glib, rich liberal guilt. Real stars of the movie are the dogs, a happy, friendly looking pack whom Weber speaks of lovingly and lenses with tenderness and vitality. Tyson, “the cat for peace,” and Tai, the elephant, get inter-species screen time. Impeccable selection of cool jazz, classical and pop tunes laces the soundtrack together. Tech ensemble has a hypnotic sheen, not unlike a 78-minute version of the Calvin Klein commercials Weber made previously.