The idea of a documentary about a man’s love for his five dogs sounds like heaven. As an avowed dog nut myself, with three funny, smart, and charming canine friends, I can think of few subjects that are more appealing. In the title "A Letter to True," "True" refers to one of writer/director Bruce Weber’s adorable Golden Retrievers. Even the dog’s name evokes a warm feeling albeit, on the verge of being almost too precious.
"A Letter to True" turns out to be a collection of vignettes; almost continuous music from the likes of singers from Doris Day, Brenda Lee, and Ray Charles to Tallulah Bankhead and Jimmy Durante; it features spectacular cinematography, and footage from old dog movies. An acclaimed photographer, Weber has a real eye for visual composition which comes through. So, with all this great stuff all in the same place, why did it leave me so disappointed?
"A Letter to True" ended up to be a little endearing, somewhat confusing, and very self-indulgent. After I realized that I wasn’t getting the gist of Weber’s vagaries, I tried to figure out just exactly what he was trying to say. It isn’t apparent how the mosaic of vignettes is connected. I think that the stories are supposed to relate to the love people have for their dogs and how that love can be healing. Some of the stories are really interesting, but seemed to mostly be illustrating how interesting Bruce Weber’s life has been: There’s the story about Weber’s hero, Vietnam War photographer Larry Burroughs who influenced Weber’s choice of careers; and, the piece about the political situation in Haiti and how Ashcroft is denying Haitian political refugees entrance to the U.S.; and there is the interesting speech by Martin Luther King, Jr. (“A Preacher Leading his Flock”) with a series of photos - mostly sort of relating to the speech.
We get to know a woman - who says she only dates married men – and her family, of several kids, horses, mules, and dogs. It is amusing to watch the family play together at their home; but besides the woman’s stories about her horses and dogs, it’s never quite clear why we’re seeing these people. Throughout the film there are lots of little tales about the wisdom of animals – one even made me tear up. The stunning cinematography of dogs in the ocean is visual poetry. But, the stories about Elizabeth Taylor and Dirk Bogarde just seemed like Weber was taking the opportunity to name-drop. Footage from "Lassie" and "Rin Tin Tin" were interspersed throughout; the one from "Rin Tin Tin" seemed to go on forever as a way to kill time.
I wanted to love this film, but ended up asking what Weber was trying to say, why he made the film, and HOW it could even get made. "A Letter to True" is a pastiche of interesting stories, sights, and music with no theme, that should have been kept in Weber’s journal.
In San Francisco, this is Joan Widdifield for "Movie Magazine."
© 2005 - Joan K. Widdifield, Psy.D - Air Date: 9/29/04
A Letter To True
Running time: 78 minutes/ Country: USA/ English/Color & Black and White/Dolby SR/ Writer and Director: Bruce Weber