Anonymous Club

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Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Anonymous Club
"An emotionally honest if slight documentary that is most likely to appeal to existing fans of Barnett's work." | Photo: Oscilloscope Laboratories

Appropriately for a musician on a tour for an album named Tell Me How You Really Feel, Aussie indie rocker Courtney Barnett does just that in this intimate documentary. Shot across three years by Danny Cohen - a long-time collaborator with the musician on her music videos - it's an emotionally honest if slight documentary that is most likely to appeal to existing fans of Barnett's work.

The word slight, incidentally, is in no way intended to refer to Barnett herself, who comes across as a deep thinker who cares equally deeply about her music and fans, but rather to the structure of the film itself which relies so heavily upon her observations that it sometimes frustratingly fails to fill in the biographical gaps. Although Cohen's friendship with Barnett no doubt adds to the film's up-close and confidential feel, and the choice of 16mm film stock gives it a soft and grainy look that matches her energy, his lack of experience in dealing with long-form material shows in the film's rambling quality and lack of general shape, beyond being split into rather arbitrary 'parts' that could have benefited from a stronger edit.

Copy picture

The heart of the film, however, is always in the right place, as we see Barnett preparing to perform everywhere from Idaho to Berlin and beyond, up on stage and working on her music, while narration is provided by audio diaries she recorded along the way. Barnett's lyrics are known for putting emotions, negative or not, front and centre and they are also to the fore in the diaries, in which, while she doesn't use the term, she talks about her feelings of imposter syndrome and is her own toughest critic. "Why can't you just be a strong, powerful communicator?" she asks herself at one point, although we can see she does exactly that through her music. These sorts of doubts, and her general self-awareness and articulacy, make her a very relatable subject for a documentary.

The intimate approach particularly pays off when we see her discussing her working process - something it would have been great to see more of - as she talks about the feeling she gets when a song is complete, or as she notes, as complete as it gets. It's a shame Cohen doesn't turn the camera more outwards like this more often, to consider the things Barnett puts out as well as the things she keeps inside, something from her bandmates would also be welcome, we see her working with a friend towards the end of the film that brings a different energy and dynamic, more of which would have been welcome - we know what she thinks but what about everyone else?

The film is out on release in the US now and will screen at Edinburgh Film Festival in August

Reviewed on: 27 Jul 2022
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'Anti-rock doc’ captures the sights, sounds and insecurities of Australian singer-songwriter Courtney Barnett.

Director: Danny Cohen

Writer: Danny Cohen

Starring: Courtney Barnett

Year: 2021

Runtime: 83 minutes

Country: Australia

Festivals:

EIFF 2022

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