Anonymous Club hits a sweet spot that the best music does, hitting notes that are both relatable and alien, painting a surprisingly grounded picture.
The best music documentaries do the impossible, simultaneously creating an intimate portrait of a larger-than-life figure and grounding them in a world that seems fantastical to most, while maintaining a certain level of grandeur that conveys what it means to be the subject of dedication. Anonymous club, which follows Australian-born singer-songwriter Courtney Barnett, finds itself in a unique position. His subject is notoriously shy, but finds himself on a world tour in support of his album tell me how you really feel in front of thousands of cheering fans. “I feel like I’m part of this scripted performance of what we think we’re supposed to see on stage and it feels really unnecessary“, says Barnett from the start, ruminating on the fact that she has the whole next year of her life mapped out. anonymous club hits a sweet spot that the best music does, hitting notes that are both relatable and somehow alien, painting a surprisingly emotional and grounded picture of what it means to play for the world when you’d rather stay in bed.
Told by Barnett herself, the performer was given a dictaphone by filmmaker Danny Cohen, and as the film progresses, she becomes increasingly reckless. Barnett is about to embark on a world tour and Anonymous club is filmed over a three-year span of her life as she faces rising importance while plagued with self-doubt.
anonymous club offers access to Barnett in a way she has never opened up before and offers fleeting moments of intimacy that feel like a form of intentional voyeurism. This is partly due to the way it is shot. 16mm film gives anonymous club an aesthetic that feels appropriate, with Barnett’s low whisper guiding the audience from scene to scene. Some of these scenes feel like actual peaks behind the curtain, and when those intimate moments are contrasted with the more visceral, angry undertones of the music she plays, there’s an interesting juxtaposition to be found there.
Yet sometimes it feels like this juxtaposition is just surface tension, a basis on which something could be explored further. Perhaps it’s Barnett’s loneliness paradox that makes it feel like there’s something the audience isn’t being told, as if Barnett is still holding something back. Barnett’s openness to this, along with the candid discussions of mental health and how fame can affect it, creates an interesting sort of Catch-22. One of the first scenes in the film shows Barnett in a gold-plated room in a hotel in Berlin. She professes “to like“, but there is always a feeling that she is not entirely comfortable in this environment.
The only place Barnett looks quite comfortable is onstage. This is where Barnett and the film itself shines. There’s something primal about Barnett’s stage presence and anonymous clubThe use of 16mm film and close-ups during her performances is almost as personal as the singer’s storytelling. Music documentaries sink or swim when it comes to portraying artists on stage and anonymous clubThe strength of is that it recognizes when Barnett is most comfortable, zooming out or panning in moments that seem almost too intimate.
Cohen and Barnett feel in tune with each other in these times and that’s part of what makes anonymous club so special — the documentary filmmaker has a clear appreciation of his subject. This can be both a good and a bad thing, however. Maybe it does anonymous club feeling just a little held back, afraid to push your subject too far beyond comfort. Still, Barnett’s opening is a wonderful sight to behold in itself, and while questions linger about the person behind the performer after the film’s end, it still feels like the audience witnessed something. Special.
More: Karmalink Review: Fresh, Beautiful Sci-Fi Blends Time Travel & Spiritualism
anonymous club released in theaters on July 15. The film is 83 minutes long and is unrated.
Daniel Kaluuya Explains Why He’s Doing a Live-Action Barney Movie
About the Author