Annie Clark, better known by her stage name, St. Vincent, wanted to make a documentary concert film about her life on the road — but she didn’t want to make just another doc about an artist from the artist’s own perspective. So instead, she and Portlandia star Carrie Brownstein teamed up with director and frequent Portlandia collaborator Bill Benz to make The Nowhere Inn — a trippy, mind-bending mockumentary that will make you question everything about St. Vincent.
“The genesis of it was that I was doing touring for Mass Seduction, my last record, and I wanted to make a concert film originally and I asked Carrie to help me. And then it sort of dovetailed into these conversations that we’ve been having forever, which is just kind of about authenticity as currency. How much do we really want to know about our favorite artists?” Clark told MovieMaker ahead of the film’s release this Friday.
“One of the things we came to is that if I were to make a concert film, ultimately, it would need some kind of a narrative arc. So, okay, you’re inserting a somewhat outside narrative. Then it would need to be cut, and I would have final cut because I’m the artist in question… basically, it would be propaganda for myself,” she said. “I don’t want to make that. I want to acknowledge kind of, first off, that documentary is a narrative, and is a scripted narrative in its own way.”
So instead of making a documentary, Clark and Brownstein decided to make a scripted movie about making a documentary. The plot of The Nowhere Inn follows Clark and Brownstein as they play versions of themselves. Brownstein plays a good friend of Clark’s (they’re friends in real life, too) who decides to make a documentary about her life as St. Vincent. As Brownstein desperately tries to find the narrative within Clark’s life on the road, she finds it harder and harder to catch Clark’s authentic self on-camera. The more she tries to coax it out of her, the more dreamlike the film becomes, as Clark descends down the rabbit hole of her own self-image.
Clark says the mockumentary style of the film is a reaction to the music documentaries that have been released by countless mainstream artists: You know, the ones meant to show fans the “real” person as they are behind the scenes with friends and family. But as much as Clark wanted to partake in that trend herself, she didn’t want to pretend that the resulting film would be based entirely on reality.
“I grew up just believing that every documentary was the truth, you know? Like, it didn’t occur to me until probably in the past couple of years… they have to tell a story, too, and it has to be a shape, and it has a point of view, and that point of view is the person who’s making the documentary,” she said. “Carrie and I were like, well, if that’s the reality of documentaries about artists commissioned by the artists themselves, we should just run with an actually scripted narrative piece, because that will be actually truer.”
The Nowhere Inn script fuses fact with fiction, poking fun at both St. Vincent herself and the trope of the ego-maniacal rockstar.
“We started off just coming up with the story that was not entirely dissimilar from me and not entirely dissimilar from [Brownstein], and kind of pokes fun pokes fun at each other and definitely me, and also pokes fun at the idea of like a quote-unquote rock star, [with] pitfalls and trappings and all that,” Clark said.
“The Nowhere Inn is a sort of like ego purgatory where people go, where they’ve pushed out everything that is good and true in their lives to feed their own narcissism, and then they are just kind of in this just liminal space,” she added. “I think what happens to people is that they can become slaves to their own ego and surround themselves with people who only tell them yes and kind of stop living in the world… in order to be a writer and to be good at making work that’s resonant with people, [you need] to live in the world.”
The Nowhere Inn is in theaters Friday.
Main Image: Annie Clark, a.k.a St. Vincent, pictured in The Nowhere Inn, courtesy of IFC Films.