It doesn’t matter if you have never heard the name of Sinéad O’Connor. After watching the new showtime documentary Nothing Compares, you will never forget it again.
Documenting her years of stardom between 1987 and 1993, Nothing Compares is a mesmerising portrait of the Irish singer-songwriter and the pressures she experienced in the limelight.
Using a brand-new interview with Sinéad, the film combines archived footage, concert performances and music videos to create an authoritative record of her years through overwhelming fame.
However, this is not just a biography. It is an extensive portrait of how childhood abuse, religious trauma and toxic media practices can affect a person.
It is thorough without being invasive, it tells a complete story without looking to cast heroes and villains. Nothing Compares lets O’Connor finally tell her side of her own mythology.
If you struggle with watching information-heavy documentaries but are interested in storytelling, director Kathryn Ferguson gives a masterclass in immersion.
She cleverly uses audio-only interviews over footage of Sinéad in the 80s and 90s. This keeps the focus on the artist and allows the audience to become completely absorbed in her world.
Therefore, you aren’t just watching a documentary about Sinéad O’Connor. You are given a rich collection of music, activism, and media at the turn of the century.
Undoubtedly, by surrounding us with culture from this period, we can see the world through Sinéad’s eyes, and understand how it informed her work.
Above all, you are with her for the intoxicating highs and the depressing lows. You are with her as the whole world throws stones at her on the pedestal they put her on.
Every part of this film feels connected; it has a flow that is never interrupted by pieces of evidence that stray from the aesthetic voice.
Ferguson achieved this through some impressive abstract footage that fills in the blanks when it comes to Sinéad’s earlier years.
Speaking to Business Doc Europe, Kathryn Ferguson explained why she included these reconstructions:
“I went about creating a visual style that echoed the aesthetics of the rest of the film to keep the viewer immersed in the storytelling.” Ferguson said:
“I wanted to create footage that blended in and even could pass as archive but also subtly nodded to the iconic visual language used in John Maybury’s many music videos for Sinéad.”
It is evidently these subtle choices that pay homage to the immense musical and artistic talent that underpins the entire documentary.
If this is the first time you are experiencing Sinead O’Connor’s work, you will be struck by the unique voice behind this truly iconic figure.
It is clear that the music takes centre stage in Nothing Compares, this is a welcome surprise as often the controversies and lore of O’Connor’s activism sometimes overshadow her talent.
This reflects the love and care that Kathryn Ferguson and her team brought to the project. They managed to make O’Connor into a three-dimensional person, completely removed from the character tabloids that have forced her to play.
Some critics have complained that Nothing Compares is not as broad as they would have hoped. And they are right. It does not say anything about Sinéad O’Connor that mega fans would not already know.
It is by no means the complete history of Sinéad O’Connor. But then again, it never claims to be either.
While it would have been interesting to explore further, it wouldn’t have necessarily made a better film. Just a longer one.
Ferguson has achieved a close-up study of the most publicized portion of Sinéad O’Conners’ life. But she has given O’Conner the pen.
It may not be a comprehensive archive, but it is a jumping-off point to begin to understand this iconic figure.
As Sinéad puts it towards the end of the film:
“They tried to bury me. They didn’t realise I was a seed.”
Nothing Compares is coming to UK theatres on 7th October.
Nothing Compares premiered at Edinburgh International Film Festival 2022
Featured Image Credit: Sundance institute