Nothing Compares Review: Sinéad O’Connor Doc Highlights Controversies

Nothing Compares Review: Sinéad O’Connor Doc Highlights Controversies

This review was originally published as part of Paste’s Sundance 2022 coverage.

Here is a purely anecdotal example of the often traumatizing fervor of Irish Catholics: I am eight years old, sitting in the backseat of my grandparents’ car with my younger siblings, and we are struggling to get to noon mass at the church in St Anne. Annoyed with the lack of time and the boring hour-long service that awaits me, I simply ask, “Pop-pop, why do we have to go to church?”

I don’t shit the shit out of you, my grandfather turned his entire torso and stared into my eyes as I still drove down suburban back streets, declaring emphatically in his County Cavan accent, “Because God can stop your heart in its tracks.” any time he wants!” I cried until they distributed the hosts.

If my devout Catholic grandfather (RIP Pop-Pop) felt no remorse in bringing his eight-year-old granddaughter to tears for simply questioning the concept of going to church, one can only imagine the toxic poison Catholics aim at the musician (and critical staunch Vatican). ) Sinéad O’Connor throughout her career. Belfast-born documentarian Kathryn Ferguson unravels the controversies that defined O’Connor in Nothing compares, covering the six-year period from 1987 to 1993 during which he rose to international fame. None of these pop culture controversies was more provocative and divisive than her 1992 SNL performance, in which she tore up a photograph of then-Pope John Paul II before yelling, “Fight the real enemy!” Essentially, Nothing compares it refreshes sensational (yet undeniably iconic) moments in O’Connor’s career, tapping into viewer nostalgia and retroactive abhorrence at the musician’s mistreatment in the media without painting a fuller portrait of a complicated and distinctly nuanced figure.

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However, the current O’Connor is far from absent from the film, even if her presence is somewhat disembodied and aloof. Ferguson weaves together audio interviews he conducted with the Irish icon, during which he comments on everything from his childhood abuse and teenage stint in a Magdalene Laundromat (infamously known for housing “fallen women”) to his acting debut in Hush-a-bye baby and his long-standing affinity for Rasta culture. Of course, he also comments on the public scrutiny of his physical appearance and activism, but listening to O’Connor recount these lesser-known facets of his career, viewers (even those who were already fans of the pop star) gain more understanding of memories of this time that are not singularly steeped in backlash. These accounts are illustrated with archival interviews, photos, performances, and news footage, with the occasional added interviewee speaking about the musician’s influence (including Kathleen Hannah and Peaches). However, there is still something of a disconnect between the film’s ultimate goal and O’Connor’s apparent autonomy. For an artist so dedicated to maintaining her gender non-conforming appearance and continuing to perform and make music, it feels strangely reductive to obsess solely over this period of raging media frenzy. It feels safe to say that many have already reflected back on these blatantly misogynistic reactions to O’Connor’s activism and thought, “Wow, yeah, that was screwed up.” Meanwhile, the person and musician O’Connor has become over the last 25 years is only recognized in a brief performance filmed before the credits roll.

Of course, expanding on O’Connor’s narrative would also mean confronting the many other controversies that have continued to surround her, instances that would be unpleasant to mention now considering the very real pain O’Connor is currently experiencing over the loss of her son. —which surely could have been handled by the director in a respectful and lucid manner. Perhaps the fact that Ferguson first collaborated with O’Connor while directing the music video for his 2013 single “4th and Vine” has resulted in an all-too-friendly working relationship (and steeped in Ferguson’s self-proclaimed love for O’Connor’s work) bring back much more recent and painful memories. It is possible that setting the film in the distant past will finally allow the artist to fully confront the injustice of her treatment and begin to heal from the experience; however, the eternally outspoken and candid O’Connor has never missed a beat when it comes to defending herself from her detractors, so it’s hard to tell.

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Another minor stumbling block is that, although the film is titled Nothing compares in reference to their hit song “Nothing Compares 2 U”, the Prince estate actually denied using O’Connor’s recording in the film, as the song’s late composer still technically owns the rights. It’s completely understandable that these mistakes often inhibit music documentaries, but once again, there was an absolute opportunity to delve into the complicated encounter the two artists had after the success of the song, which O’Connor recently detailed in his memoir of 2021. remembering.

If there’s one major misstep the film makes, it’s the clumsy assertion that contemporary pop stars have even a shred of the moral fiber and rebellious fortitude that O’Connor had during the height of his popularity. Sorry, but if Ariana Grande screaming while holding a pride flag is now considered the same kind of political activism as O’Connor boycotting the Grammys with Public Enemy, it’s resoundingly clear that the true social justice leanings in pop music are pretty much null. -existing. What remains so compelling about O’Connor is that he actually used his popularity to challenge powerful institutions long before anyone else felt remotely comfortable doing so, in tangible ways that actually said “fuck you” to the Pope, to the Grammys and even to her. own audience, knowing it would jeopardize his career. While that level of commitment to the cause is admittedly rare among celebrities (or celebrity wannabes), it would be great if Nothing compares it even inspired an up-and-coming artist to embrace the man as Sinéad O’Connor did.

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Director: kathryn ferguson
Release date: January 21, 2022 (Sundance)

Natalia Keogan is a freelance film writer based in Queens, New York. Her work has appeared in Paste, blood knife Y filmmaker magazines, among others. Find it On twitter.

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