In Reviews

September 29th, 2022




There are plenty of people today who can accept non-binary and other gender variations. As a college professor, I see this in my students on a daily basis. Pronouns, such as they and them, are now the norm. Thirty years ago, this wasn’t the case. When Sinead O’Connor came on the music scene in the late 1980s, a lot of people didn’t quite know what to make of her. She was that “bald chick” who screamed into a microphone. Then, famously, she tore up a photo of the Pope and effectively became one of our first “canceled” celebrities. The new documentary, Nothing Compares, explores all of this and more.

This is an intimate look at the rise and fall of O’Connor in the late 80s and early 90s. Director Kathryn Ferguson does an excellent job of documenting all of the significant events in the artist’s early life. There are some priceless videos of O’Connor at some early live performances. In one case, we hear her singing Barbra Streisand’s Oscar-winning song “Evergreen” at a wedding. Her voice was a major calling card and triumph for her. It’s easy to see why a record company would want to sign her back then.

In the early clips, O’Connor seems to be happily embracing her initial stardom. She gets excited over the possibility of a number one song. Much of the footage Ferguson uses here also includes talk show appearances when O’Connor is questioned about her shaved head and her issues with Ireland and the Catholic Church. Clearly, she was an artist with something to say for she spared nothing on the air or in her music. Ferguson handles all of this very effectively and includes lots of voice over from O’Connor herself as she reflects back on these early years in the pop spotlight as well as her abusive childhood. We begin to understand so much about her anger and frustrations.

The film then turns its attention to the controversies that many of us remember from the early 90s when O’Connor refused to sing if the American National Anthem was to be sung at a live concert where she was performing and, most famously, when she ripped that Pope photo on Saturday Night Live. These issues led to a cancellation and ultimately a breakdown of her career. Radio stations stopped playing her music and concert goers booed her while on stage.

It’s all very well documented in the film. The pacing is exceptional and the use of clips from her live appearances, videos, and interviews provide intimate details as to just what made O’Connor such a phenomenon and a controversial figure. Her political and social feelings are also carefully explored.

If the film is missing anything it is the details surrounding the Prince estate not allowing the filmmaker to use any of O’Connor’s recording of her most famous hit, Nothing Compares 2 U, which Prince wrote. The film also seems to cease its focus on O’Connor after she was shunned from the public spotlight and doesn’t address much of her last 25 years. During this period, there were major news reports about her becoming a minister, a lesbian, and suicidal. None of this gets any attention.

However, this doesn’t necessarily take away from what O’Connor was in her heyday. Everything she did publicly had a major effect on her career and today we see how all of this might have paved the way for a gender neutral, politically aware new generation of artists that can get away with a host of stances and physical appearances and not be affected negatively. Would we have the gender exploration that artists like Billie Eilish, Harry Styles, and Billy Porter emphasize today were it not for what O’Connor was expressing in her day?

The other significance of Nothing Compares is that it allows O’Connor’s incredible voice and music to surface once again. The film does a painstaking job of documenting the production, release, and reception of her albums The Lion and the Cobra, I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got, and Am I Not Your Girl? The film could and should propel viewers to check out her recordings (and videos, for that matter) and discover, perhaps for the first time, just what a unique and influential artist O’Connor has been.
I’d be ready, if Ferguson chooses, to line up for a sequel to this documentary which might delve into O’Connor’s last 25 years. I’ve no doubt that this director would be up to the task.



Written by: Dan Pal
[email protected]

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