News

Annie Clark Wanted to Expose A Music Industry Illusion, But First She Needed to Become a “Monster”

The musician known as St. Vincent went down the “narcissism rabbit hole” for The Nowhere Inn, the absurdist meta-comedy that holds a funhouse mirror up to the meticulously artificial genre of the music documentary.

by | September 17, 2021 | Comments

The Nowhere Inn

(Photo by Courtesy of IFC Films.)

As a genre, the music documentary is premised on the promise of access. A concert doc hopes to bring audiences the immediacy of a live performance they may have missed (or wish to relive). A biographical doc, meanwhile, aims to take us past public personas and appearances and into the private world of a music act. Except, as Annie Clark – better known as the ever-alluring St. Vincent – found out when watching a whole slew of them, these promises are only ever illusory. There may be a semblance of access, but everything offered has been highly curated; any hint of authenticity is neutered by the very confines of the genre.

The Nowhere Inn, a new film that finds Clark playing a heightened version of herself as she sets out to film a concert documentary, was first conceived as a concert doc meant to document St. Vincent’s Masseduction tour. But, as the meta-approach of this bare-bones synopsis suggests, such a straightforward tact was never going to work. Or rather, it wouldn’t have been as much fun as an all-out deconstruction of the genre and the very pop/rock stars it so often exalts.

“Well, I didn’t really want it to be just a straight concert,” she told Rotten Tomatoes recently, recalling the origins for this scripted project. “So I asked Carrie Brownstein if she would help me make some interstitials to go in between songs; have some cute way of framing it, I guess. And then that kind of dovetailed into conversations that Carrie and I have been having for years about authenticity and performance.”

It was during those early talks about music docs that the two friends realized the genre at large (exceptions notwithstanding) was stuck in a rather rigid schema. You’d hear about humble beginnings and tragedies that marked an artist’s early life. You’d get a requisite going-home sequence and the attendant “I’m just a regular person, but I also happen to be massively famous” sensibility that couldn’t help but ring hollow.

“Well, why don’t we just make a crazy, meta-scripted, psychological absurd horror that deals with all of it?” Clark recalls asking herself. “And in a way that, oddly enough by scripting it, would make it more authentic than if I had tried and failed to perform authenticity?”

The film begins like a straightforward mockumentary wherein Carrie tries to get Annie to make her backstage life less boring (less video games and more… anything else, really). But soon, as Annie begins to take her St. Vincent persona off of the stage and into her real life, hoping to create more exciting footage, The Nowhere Inn takes a turn for the absurd. That Clark describes that turn – which finds Annie hiring a fake family out in the country to visit and later making Carrie and Annie twinned images of each other – by invoking the likes of Bertolt Brecht, David Lynch, and Peter Greenaway hints at the twisted, near-nightmarish logic that eventually overtakes The Nowhere Inn.

The Nowhere Inn

(Photo by Courtesy of IFC Films.)

But even before the Bill Benz-directed film all but splinters out into its Rubik’s cube of an ending, it cements itself as a probing satire that artfully skewers the performance of authenticity that so constitutes contemporary celebrity culture. Even the moments that supposedly humanize artists in music docs, to Clark, feel not just alien but outright disturbing. “I get confused because I see things celebrated that seem to me like just really terrible behavior – like inhuman-like narcissism to the next level,” she says. “But it’s sort of lauded. And I wanted to do that in this movie and play with it.”

Clark points to what is, in her mind, the funniest scene in the film. It’s a moment where a fan, having been brought backstage to meet with Annie, pours her heart out and tells the artist how her music helped her cope with a personal tragedy. There’s such a naked vulnerability on display that the sudden tears that overtake Annie at first feel not just earned but necessary. But there’s no empathy at work here. Just another instance of an artist unwilling (or unable) to let other people center themselves when she’s around. “I have to hijack it and make it about myself,” she explains. “Because I’m so narcissistic that I can’t even allow her the space to tell this heartbreaking story. And then she ends up consoling me, and it’s just like – what a monster!”

As Clark found out firsthand when attending a Sundance screening of the film back in 2020 (no one had the foresight to tell her or Brownstein that talent rarely sit in on these premiere screenings), the scene didn’t quite land with the raucous laughter she expected. That was an early sign that The Nowhere Inn may be more unintentionally baffling than she’d first anticipated. Or that the humor she finds in this narcissistic monster she created out of the on-screen Annie she plays may rightfully keep audiences in a sense of unease.

The Nowhere Inn

(Photo by Courtesy of IFC Films.)

“I needed to go down the complete narcissism rabbit hole for it to pan out,” she adds. “And not just down the narcissism rabbit hole, but also into this inkling that I was in control of the narrative the whole time. That’s certainly a nod to the fact that really rock stars and pop stars, they are in control of the narrative the whole time. Make no mistake.”

As Annie puts it late in the film when she’s become a laughably terrifying prima donna: “Ok. Let’s only document the things I can control.” It’s a line that epitomizes the fine line The Nowhere Inn walks, existing at the intersection of a comical threat and an existential joke.

“It’s a funny one because I think music is so intimate. And I’ve talked about my whole life, all my fears and loves and concerns and tragedies through music. And so that is really deep. I just think that’s a really deep connection that, even if you don’t know what I ate for breakfast, it’s a kind of a deeper part of me. I really believe in that.”

If The Nowhere Inn revels in poking fun at the very possibility of music documentaries offering any kind of authentic appreciation of the artists they profile, Clark doesn’t discount the way in which its outré tone may in fact give her fans newer insights into her own person – and persona.

“I think they might get a better sense of my appreciation of absurdity – like that I don’t take myself very seriously. And that identities are very malleable and we’re just all playing with it all the time. That reality feels increasingly illusory.”

The Nowhere Inn is in theaters and available on-demand from Friday September 17, 2021.


On an Apple device? Follow Rotten Tomatoes on Apple News.

Thumbnail image: © IFC Films / Courtesy Everett Collection

Tag Cloud

The Witch diversity free movies Rom-Com joker Hulu sag awards deadpool reviews rt archives VICE anime Nickelodeon Ghostbusters Emmy Nominations movie Spike Funimation Watching Series tv talk canceled reboot ViacomCBS psycho transformers scene in color Brie Larson Premiere Dates adenture FX TV Land Fox Searchlight documentaries MSNBC dc 90s Election marvel cinematic universe 2021 spanish police drama critics political drama Pacific Islander LGBT Paramount cops cats what to watch Teen football halloween international Reality Competition Dark Horse Comics Crackle hispanic new zealand Arrowverse Thanksgiving Sneak Peek Amazon Tokyo Olympics olympics Superheroes fresh sopranos vs. renewed TV shows GoT latino spain Tumblr venice archives See It Skip It batman Trophy Talk Summer Endgame Holiday dragons news Red Carpet 99% nbcuniversal American Society of Cinematographers justice league know your critic Cosplay heist movie Elton John science fiction sitcom Opinion SXSW scary movies target twilight NBC Comedy GIFs cancelled TV series franchise SundanceTV Instagram Live Apple supernatural Apple TV Plus Paramount Network Pet Sematary Baby Yoda Disney+ Disney Plus Writers Guild of America Netflix Musicals Acorn TV Biopics The Walking Dead CNN AMC Rock ESPN festival First Reviews Grammys halloween tv satire genre Comedy Central Warner Bros. mission: impossible hist women foreign Mudbound Tubi zero dark thirty Certified Fresh Rocketman BET Awards talk show Lifetime Christmas movies jurassic park die hard nature basketball Set visit movies 24 frames jamie lee curtis El Rey NBA The Walt Disney Company Film Festival 4/20 TV renewals HBO Max casting Trailer Calendar james bond Shondaland Anna Paquin crime thriller saw razzies festivals dexter Disney Plus debate Drama YouTube book blockbusters legend Star Trek comics Comic Book space Emmys 2017 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards Cartoon Network sequel biopic Superheroe video on demand Martial Arts Christmas romance high school Chernobyl strong female leads A24 name the review directors Amazon Prime Video Hallmark Christmas movies Quiz universal monsters doctor who Crunchyroll fast and furious Discovery Channel comic book movies Nat Geo Horror TCA concert Super Bowl Spring TV Disney Channel remakes emmy awards APB BBC Pop TV vampires HBO Go Black History Month live event Mystery Best and Worst Ovation true crime marvel comics Nominations discovery royal family dceu Countdown Marvel Box Office BAFTA Mary Poppins Returns popular 45 comic books VH1 Turner politics Rocky rotten movies we love sequels king arthur films biography docuseries Sundance Avengers Stephen King revenge BBC One Film Lifetime Character Guide Extras Logo Disney Video Games rom-coms Animation Paramount Plus Winter TV black scary 2018 Marvel Studios comiccon war based on movie suspense screenings TCA Awards prank Tarantino slashers thriller french romantic comedy Columbia Pictures spider-man Classic Film ABC Signature Adult Swim TV movies zombie Disney streaming service lord of the rings spanish language X-Men Sundance Now IMDb TV NYCC feel good cinemax book adaptation MTV Heroines 007 facebook Wes Anderson comedies italian stand-up comedy action-comedy Alien TV One Awards australia Sundance TV Mindy Kaling Academy Awards chucky CBS All Access Lucasfilm cartoon anthology RT History witnail binge AMC Plus award winner Schedule teaser godzilla DC streaming service cars composers wonder woman hidden camera Bravo elevated horror Marathons New York Comic Con cancelled television kong sports Starz adventure christmas movies medical drama Toys period drama crime drama Shudder Britbox DC Universe Syfy ABC Family streaming Song of Ice and Fire trailers streaming movies Pirates cancelled RT21 WarnerMedia Western golden globe awards Pixar Winners japanese Musical worst movies Binge Guide CBS E3 scorecard superman Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Music art house werewolf Broadway DC Comics 72 Emmy Awards Amazon Prime stop motion Photos CMT young adult nfl children's TV classics Hallmark ghosts DirecTV quibi IFC theme song Fantasy dark canceled TV shows Television Academy Chilling Adventures of Sabrina dogs crossover cooking Cannes Amazon Studios posters screen actors guild The Academy Walt Disney Pictures Epix The Purge 93rd Oscars black comedy Star Wars japan Comics on TV richard e. Grant BET TCA 2017 FXX Black Mirror 73rd Emmy Awards Netflix Christmas movies crime Reality Television Critics Association finale PlayStation TV live action toronto Esquire kids series child's play stoner 20th Century Fox TCM comic book movie spinoff mockumentary serial killer President Fall TV travel Neflix a nightmare on elm street Freeform TIFF dreamworks hollywood unscripted documentary TCA Winter 2020 video rt labs critics edition OneApp YouTube Red Country ABC Tomatazos critic resources TLC docudrama PaleyFest Creative Arts Emmys HBO toy story Trivia Ellie Kemper BBC America natural history Sci-Fi Valentine's Day mob criterion kaiju indie Sony Pictures gangster Infographic cults TBS rt labs Hear Us Out television psychological thriller Polls and Games dramedy king kong obituary Pop Fox News Exclusive Video 21st Century Fox Pride Month History FOX DGA Mary Tyler Moore pirates of the caribbean cancelled TV shows TNT singing competition Masterpiece Marvel Television ratings independent asian-american laika Women's History Month Universal Pictures technology golden globes blockbuster 2020 versus Action slasher Universal CW Seed San Diego Comic-Con 1990s all-time historical drama adaptation Captain marvel ID Interview Oscars 2019 Year in Review robots Vudu south america superhero blaxploitation monster movies Image Comics rotten 71st Emmy Awards animated aliens game of thrones boxing USA Network 2015 GLAAD FX on Hulu Holidays hispanic heritage month disaster social media Podcast The CW MCU green book new star wars movies harry potter breaking bad ITV comic Spectrum Originals LGBTQ game show Showtime OWN Peacock new york Mary poppins Awards Tour miniseries National Geographic SDCC Travel Channel Legendary YA A&E E! YouTube Premium Apple TV+ spider-verse Turner Classic Movies parents telelvision WGN Comic-Con@Home 2021 mcc 2016 spy thriller VOD TruTV Family mutant USA The Arrangement zombies Kids & Family PBS Lionsgate worst IFC Films aapi First Look best boxoffice Food Network indiana jones