According to “Nothing Compares”, Sinéad Had No Second Act!
I grew up in the same Ireland as Sinéad O’Connor. A theocracy. An adjunct of the Vatican City where the Catholic Church (and the pope) were the de facto rulers of the country. The shots of Dublin in the mid-eighties struck a chord with me. I was in medical school then, writing film reviews for “In Dublin” magazine whose offices were on the northern side of The Ha’penny Bridge, the visual centerpiece of Kathryn Ferguson’s biographical film. The father of Sinéad’s daughter Roisin is John Waters who was my editor for a two-year stretch of my “In Dublin” tenure. And then there was a brief fling with her brother! We moved in the same circles although we never met.
The movie covers the usual Sinéad biographical details:
- Troubled childhood.
- A mentally ill mother who beat her.
- Time spent with the nuns because of her teenage behavior, and the notorious adjacent Magdalene Laundry.
- Her meteoric rise to fame, first with “The Lion and the Cobra” and then, her defining moment in 1990, with the album “I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got”. Its classic single, was, of course, the mega-smash “Nothing Compares to You”, accompanied by an equally classic video in which Sinéad sheds a tear.
- The world’s darling for about two years until it all came crashing down. There had been anticipating events such as her insistence on the American National Anthem not being played before her concerts in the US during the Gulf War. Then in October of 1992, as the musical guest on SNL, she tore up a picture of the pope.
- God bless her, her heart was in the right place, but she chose the wrong venue.
- Her last moments as an imploding star at Bob Dylan’s 30th-anniversary concert where, in a sea of boos from the audience (who did they think they were going to see?), she ended up in the comforting arms of Kris Kristofferson – Dylan, her hero, didn’t give her a second thought.
- Sinéad had no comeback, no second act.
Unfortunately, the movie seems to agree. We get Sinéad up to the moment of her self-destruction and no more. The husbands, the boyfriends, the girlfriends, the kids, the mental illness, the drugs, the booze, the suicide attempts, her sexuality, she’s a dyke, she’s not a dyke, she’s bisexual, she’s not bisexual, she’s a priest, she’s not a priest and then her conversion to Islam, are never mentioned. Neither are the eight albums she has made since her fall from grace. Prince, who wrote her biggest hit, is not mentioned until we get an end credit saying that his estate would not let the filmmakers use the song which gives this regrettable film its title.
There are no talking heads here, just an off-screen narration by the woman herself. Unfortunately, the first thought that comes to mind is that she is now such an ugly old crone that Ferguson is afraid to show her – and when we do get a glimpse of her at the end of the movie our worst fears are confirmed, although that glorious crystal-clear voice is still there.
Then there is the problem of Sinéad the narrator. Personally, I always thought Sinéad was crazy. A fabulist, she changes her opinions and attitudes like the rest of us change clothes. In the film, she says that what made her want to become a musician was her brother bringing home a vinyl record (remember those!) of Dylan’s “Slow Train Coming”. But isn’t this too pat, too easy? I don’t believe it. It’s like when the Elton John character says, in his biographical feature, that the “John” came from John Lennon. Good for a laugh, but a pure fabrication.
The cripplingly sad thing about this unfortunate venture is that just as “Nothing Compares” was about to be screened at Sundance this year, Sinéad’s son Shane committed suicide. The tragedy continues.
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