After Sinead O’Connor ripped a picture of Pope John Paul II’s picture on SNL in 1992 and announced, “Fight the real enemy,” I just chalked it up to a celebrity desperately craving notoriety. I had no idea she was protesting child abuse within the Catholic Church or her own unfortunate life under Catholic influence in Ireland.
“Nothing Compares” is a beautifully orchestrated bio doc that explains the life and thoughts of O’Connor. Most importantly, it begins with her statement: “I did suffer a lot because everyone thought they could kick the shit out of me. There was no therapy when I was growing up. So the reason I got into music was therapy. Which is why it was such a shock to become a pop star. It’s not what I wanted. I just wanted to scream.”
O’Connor’s mother, who suffered from mental illness, had custody of her. When Sinead was young her mother sequestered her in their backyard and then locked her out of the house for a week, day and night. She calls herself a battered child. At some point Sinead was remanded to a residential training center run by Catholic sisters. Though she also suffered there, she was also recognized for the first time for her voice.
Kathryn Ferguson, filmmaker for “Nothing Compares,” writes that because she was born in Belfast and experienced the challenging life of a country torn between the Catholics and northern Ireland, she was especially drawn to O’Connor’s music. In 2013, she directed Sinead’s music video, “4th and Vine.”
By 2018, Ferguson teamed with Eleanor Emptage and Michael Mallie to begin development of this fabulously insightful and nakedly revealing documentary on Sinead, who was willing to narrate and provide archival footage.
By the time Ferguson presents the SNL Pope moment, we are in awe of a woman before her time who shows no fear of failure because she is not working for fame and fortune but on truth and sanity.
Ferguson takes us through O’Connor’s life and shows what Sinead is doing now. I learned plenty and have a new respect for an artist who prioritized social justice, no matter the cost to her professionally.
With a series of film festival awards and nominations for best documentary, “Nothing Compares,” featuring O’Connor’s hit written by Prince, is a masterpiece of character study and sensitive film-making.
Director: Kathryn Ferguson
Writers: Eleanor Emptage, Kathryn Fergusona nd Michael Mallie
Editing: Mick Mahon
Featuring: Sinead O’Connor, Gay Byrne
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