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

obi wan prank 20th Century Fox streamig Vudu Country cancelled television concert Amazon asian-american biopic Hallmark worst movies TCA 2017 space Lionsgate dceu award winner kong LGBTQ Apple 99% interviews DC Comics aliens quibi gangster talk show dragons mob golden globe awards james bond CBS All Access 90s Holidays TV 2020 Cosplay romance Holiday Lucasfilm what to watch criterion Disney Channel ABC Signature Exclusive Video telelvision Tomatazos witnail Netflix Christmas movies joker zombies ghosts ABC christmas movies comic Broadway Sundance TV PaleyFest Red Carpet Calendar festivals screenings Year in Review Musical Amazon Studios cats young adult Ellie Kemper Mudbound scene in color archives police drama toy story technology sequels debate women BAFTA Warner Bros. Hulu blockbusters Shudder PlayStation international new zealand USA diversity LGBT Film Festival Instagram Live game of thrones book japan Trailer south america Nat Geo Pride Month WarnerMedia deadpool cooking SundanceTV Marvel Studios Universal Pictures Best Actor Character Guide E! Fantasy remakes TV One Creative Arts Emmys toronto IFC Films Neflix comedies sequel Dark Horse Comics GLAAD slasher Pet Sematary The Academy stop motion Emmys Set visit 79th Golden Globes Awards Classic Film Nickelodeon legend See It Skip It SDCC TruTV Polls and Games Thanksgiving Family new star wars movies Rocky spanish latino Best and Worst adenture E3 The CW 72 Emmy Awards canceled TV shows serial killer disaster sports indie Comedy Central independent Election nfl 2016 Rocketman foreign worst Winter TV classics spain USA Network indiana jones Reality Pop TV crime drama El Rey marvel cinematic universe Universal Epix Syfy Paramount Pictures DC Universe black Paramount CMT 2018 hispanic heritage month cartoon Lifetime Christmas movies marvel comics Best Picture VOD Photos ITV wonder woman CBS a nightmare on elm street MTV Emmy Nominations facebook Hallmark Christmas movies Reality Competition streaming movies french ratings thriller period drama new york Discovery Channel ABC Family hist TCM children's TV 71st Emmy Awards summer preview Avengers finale ID unscripted Peacock YouTube Red breaking bad Amazon Prime Video singing competition harry potter travel Fall TV FXX Watching Series miniseries Columbia Pictures king arthur HFPA stoner satire jurassic park Chernobyl President First Reviews Masterpiece dogs adventure basketball based on movie Comic Book Christmas BET BBC America Paramount Plus scary revenge Pirates olympics summer TV preview rotten streaming stand-up comedy Comedy comics Fox Searchlight 2019 Pixar spanish language Quiz HBO Max canceled dexter dc ViacomCBS comiccon New York Comic Con 93rd Oscars Baby Yoda Disney cancelled TV series golden globes History movie Cannes CNN anthology rt labs critics edition Comics on TV nbcuniversal sitcom Adult Swim die hard Logo kids VICE 24 frames Disney+ Disney Plus YouTube Premium San Diego Comic-Con football Teen Mary Poppins Returns cinemax NBA franchise Premiere Dates posters scary movies Ovation MSNBC psycho suspense Mindy Kaling heist movie DGA FOX universal monsters zero dark thirty spinoff Funimation cars 4/20 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards know your critic Cartoon Network Women's History Month batman razzies comic books halloween tv cults summer TV halloween First Look RT21 Winners Brie Larson emmy awards The Walking Dead Black History Month crossover trophy elevated horror high school HBO Go TV movies popular NBC Action Hear Us Out Awards Tour Bravo TV renewals political drama spider-man docuseries Hollywood Foreign Press Association cancelled TV shows Writers Guild of America feel good OWN Trophy Talk movies superman Awards Superheroe Disney streaming service casting OneApp cops Television Academy Food Network Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Television Critics Association rotten movies we love TBS FX National Geographic Sundance Now 73rd Emmy Awards Mary poppins sag awards Musicals Legendary comic book movie best Rom-Com 21st Century Fox TIFF sopranos YouTube boxing The Witch IFC Marathons Lifetime broadcast mutant Black Mirror fast and furious Elton John romantic comedy rt archives Focus Features Best Actress TCA Awards Amazon Prime AMC Plus animated Starz comic book movies Opinion TNT 2021 Britbox TCA black comedy critics Biopics spy thriller GIFs 007 docudrama Martial Arts Superheroes crime thriller renewed TV shows Ghostbusters true crime CW Seed Pacific Islander discovery BBC Best Director vampires SXSW parents AMC screen actors guild IMDb TV Valentine's Day nature Endgame mcc Spike vs. Schedule obituary Pop Sony Pictures chucky cancelled Countdown Tarantino rt labs Mary Tyler Moore FX on Hulu Oscars Turner Classic Movies jamie lee curtis strong female leads social media Oscar Heroines video on demand green book Podcast biography slashers NYCC 45 leaderboard 2015 Super Bowl Infographic Sundance Summer PBS kaiju venice ESPN MGM royal family Mystery werewolf Prime Video Walt Disney Pictures festival twilight Certified Fresh versus all-time free movies superhero Video Games binge TV Land zombie DirecTV Esquire Nominations godzilla boxoffice blaxploitation Crackle anime A24 live action critic resources Netflix Showtime mockumentary WGN politics reboot Animation target justice league transformers Star Trek Sneak Peek MCU mission: impossible science fiction The Purge Fargo Spectrum Originals doctor who crime RT History Box Office Anna Paquin Horror historical drama Marvel king kong Rock Paramount Network directors The Arrangement Tokyo Olympics medical drama live event blockbuster Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Comic-Con@Home 2021 Spring TV Binge Guide video hidden camera teaser Alien Freeform Fox News 94th Oscars composers HBO BET Awards Star Wars DC streaming service reviews SXSW 2022 pirates of the caribbean Stephen King Crunchyroll TCA Winter 2020 Trivia dreamworks American Society of Cinematographers name the review X-Men dramedy trailers aapi Drama Interview South by Southwest Film Festival Shondaland fresh documentary Apple TV+ spider-verse theme song scorecard YA war TLC Turner game show Music supernatural italian Grammys Western hollywood richard e. Grant VH1 BBC One news Tubi adaptation robots Tumblr Image Comics Disney Plus hispanic tv talk 2017 child's play Toys laika Extras APB 1990s lord of the rings Sci-Fi japanese australia Song of Ice and Fire Arrowverse genre Tags: Comedy Captain marvel Film natural history Marvel Television book adaptation dark documentaries saw series A&E Travel Channel action-comedy rom-coms Academy Awards Wes Anderson psychological thriller Kids & Family Apple TV Plus films television The Walt Disney Company monster movies GoT Acorn TV art house