Nothing Compares Review: Sinéad O’Connor Doc Highlights Controversy
Nothing Compares Review: Sinéad O’Connor Doc Highlights Controversy

Nothing Compares Review: Sinéad O’Connor Doc Highlights Controversy

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

Here’s a purely anecdotal example of the often traumatic fervor of Irish Catholics: I’m eight years old, sitting in the back seat of my grandfather’s car with my younger siblings as we struggle to make the lunchtime service at St. Ann’s Church. Annoyed by the time crunch and the boring hour-long service ahead of me, I bluntly ask, “Pop-pop, why do we even have to go to church?”

Don’t shit, grandpa turned his entire torso and looked me dead in the eye as I was still driving through the suburban streets, insisting in a County Cavan accent, “Because God can stop your heart anytime He wants to!” I cried until the communion wafers were handed out.

If my devout Catholic grandfather (RIP Pop-Pop) felt no remorse when he brought his eight-year-old niece to tears for questioning the concept of going to church, we can only imagine the toxic vitriol that Catholics -they targeted the musician (and staunch critic of the Vatican). ) Sinéad O’Connor with throughout her career. Belfast-born documentary filmmaker Kathryn Ferguson reveals the controversies that defined O’Connor in Nothing compares, spanning the six-year period from 1987 to 1993, during which she 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 photo of then-Pope John Paul II before shouting, “Fight the real enemy! ” Essentially, Nothing compares rehashes sensationalized (though undeniably iconic) moments from O’Connor’s career—exploiting viewer nostalgia and retroactive revulsion for the musician’s mistreatment in the media, without actually painting a fuller portrait of a clearly nuanced and complicated figure.

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However, the actual O’Connor is far from absent from the film, even if her presence is somewhat disembodied and distant. Ferguson weaves in audio interviews she conducted with the Irish icon, during which she discusses everything from her childhood abuse and teenage years in a Magdalene laundromat (infamous for housing “fallen women”) to her debut in acting in Hush-a-Bye Baby and her long-standing affinity for Rasta culture. Of course, she also comments on public scrutiny of her physical appearance and activism, but hearing O’Connor recount these lesser-known facets of her career makes viewers (even those who were already fans of the pop star) get a better insight into memories from this era that are not singularly steeped in backlash. These re-tellings are illustrated by archival interviews, photographs, performances and news footage, with the occasional added interviewee weighing in on the influence of the musician (including Kathleen Hannah and the Peaches). However, there is still some disconnect between the film’s ultimate goal and O’Connor’s apparent autonomy. For an artist so dedicated to maintaining her gender-nonconforming appearance and continuing to sing and make music, it’s strangely reductive to only fixate on this period of rabid media frenzy. It’s safe to say that many have already retroactively reflected on these clearly misogynistic reactions to O’Connor’s activism and thought, “Wow, yeah, that was badass.” Meanwhile, the person and musician that O’Connor has developed into over the past 25 years is acknowledged only in a brief performance filmed before the film was shot.

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Of course, expanding O’Connor’s narrative would also mean confronting the many other controversies that have continued to surround her—cases that it would be distasteful to bring up now, given the very real pain she is experiencing. currently O’Connor due to the loss of her son. — which certainly 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 video for her 2013 single “4th and Vine” led to an all-too-friendly working relationship (and steeped in Ferguson’s love of work O’Connor’s). to bring to mind much more recent and painful memories. It’s possible that the film’s setting in the distant past will finally allow the artist to fully confront the unfairness of her treatment and begin to heal from the experience – however, the eternally honest and sincere O’Connor never misses a beat beat when it comes to defense. herself by detractors, so it’s hard to say.

Another minor point is that although the film is titled Nothing compares in reference to her hit song “Nothing Compares 2 U”, Prince’s estate actually denied the use of O’Connor’s recording in the film, as the song’s late author still owns the rights. It’s completely understandable that these snafus often inhibit music documentaries, but once again, there was absolutely an opportunity to delve into the complicated meeting the two artists had after the track’s success, which O’Connor recently detailed in his 2021 memoir. Memories.

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If there’s one major misstep the film makes, it’s the daft claim that contemporary pop stars have even a fraction of the moral fiber and rebellious force that O’Connor had at the height of her popularity. I’m sorry, but if Ariana Grande holding her belt 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 true social justice leanings in pop music they are practically non-existent. -existing. What remains so compelling about O’Connor is that she actually used her popularity to challenge powerful institutions long before anyone else was comfortable doing so, in tangible ways that really said “to damn” to the Pope, the Grammys and even her. his own audience—albeit knowing it would jeopardize his career. While this level of commitment to the cause is certainly rare among celebrities (or aspiring celebrities), it would be great if Nothing compares it even inspired a single budding artist to stick it to the man like Sinéad O’Connor did.

Principal: Kathryn Ferguson
Release date: January 21, 2022 (Sundance)

Natalia Keogan is a freelance film writer based in Queens, New York. Her work has been featured in Paste, Blood knife and Film maker magazines, among others. Find a on Twitter.

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