Much like Courtney Barnett’s music, there is a fantastic personal touch to Danny Cohen’s documentary Anonymous Club that entices you. He captures an artist in her purest and most honest form – a wonderfully thoughtful doc.
With unprecedented, intimate access to the private life of Courtney Barnett, recording her innermost thoughts on a Dictaphone for three years, this innovative and stylised 16mm feature documentary follows a paradoxically introverted performer and anti-influencer who, at her height of success, is ready to walk away.
The best thing Cohen implements in Anonymous Club is letting Barnett talk for herself, not just in talking head segments. Hearing her talk about her struggles and anxieties makes you immediately connect to her. This is a tremendous jumping-in point for those unfamiliar with her work. But, equally, for those who do not know of her music, we get a fascinating glimpse at the struggles musicians and those in the limelight have at times.
Courtney Barnett’s success is actually of little interest to Cohen; instead, he is more glued in on how she feels as a person who is embarking on a world tour. The immense level of self-doubt shrouds Barnett at all times, and as Anonymous Club continues, her vulnerability increases as she becomes more comfortable with describing her thoughts and feelings. Barnett is often alone in a hotel room, left to contemplate, wondering how exactly she has gotten there. Yet, this success and continued success at that weigh heavily on her, and you can sense and feel for her in those moments.
It asks us how artists cope with such rising success. The sense of feeling like a fraud has to be strong, that they have fluked their way to their position. What strikes you, though, is how limited mental health protection is for people who reach this point in their careers. Barnett is mostly navigating this on her own, so as her tour continues, she must decide what is most valuable to her. With musical performers especially, some have moments of sink or swim. Do those who find success carefully navigate the treacherous waters and come out the other side? Or does the pressure get too much, and they crumble? With Barnett, she steadies herself to find her path on this journey, and by the end of the film, it is one that you will be watching and actively rooting for.
Barnett is a talent you will have on an immediate heavy rotation on your Spotify (or enter other music streaming services here). But what strikes you most when watching the documentary is how she changes on stage. Although she is a born performer and truly meant to be on that stage, her comfortableness when it is just her and a guitar is a sight to behold. Despite that, those doubts remain, and perhaps they will always remain within her. Yet you sense that as long as she can go out and play, she will find her way.
Danny Cohen has crafted a careful introspection of a film; you fall for his subject while at the same time coming out of it with a whole new level of respect for those that perform. A deeply personal story, Anonymous Club opens us to Courtney Barnett’s world while opening up a bigger conversation about the mental health strains on success.
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