Now that Annie Clark and Carrie Brownstein have made “The Nowhere Inn,” a surreal, mind-bending and satirical mockumentary about the push and pull between Clark’s real life identity and her onstage persona St. Vincent, Clark is wondering where the St. Vincent character can go from here.
The film from director Bill Benz that premiered at Sundance goes deep into the ideas of narcissism and personality as examined by St. Vincent’s colorful, blistering stage shows and indie art rock, but could “The Nowhere Inn” be curtains for St. Vincent?
“I think in the end, in some ways it kind of blows up the whole character of St. Vincent in a way. It’s kind of the final…where else can you go with that,” Clark told TheWrap at the Sundance Film Festival.
“So you’re retiring,” Benz asked Clark in response. “I’m announcing my retirement, and I’m going to coach in the WNBA,” she said.
Clark and Brownstein wrote and starred together in “The Nowhere Inn,” which sees Brownstein agreeing to direct a concert documentary for St. Vincent. The only problem is, the real Annie Clark as seen in the film is a boring nerd who would rather just play Nintendo Switch. According to even her band members, the only thing that makes Clark interesting is her music. So Brownstein attempts to coax some of the onstage St. Vincent into Clark’s reality, but Clark’s alter ego soon gets the better of her and Brownstein in increasingly bizarre and terrifying ways.
The two explained that the real Annie Clark initially did approach Brownstein to direct a traditional concert documentary that would be broken up with “Portlandia” style sketches. “The Nowhere Inn” does include real concert footage from a show during St. Vincent’s “Fear the Future” tour at Los Angeles’ Hollywood Palladium as filmed by comedian and director Bobcat Goldthwait. But after much discussion, “The Nowhere Inn” evolved into something much more.
“There’s something wonderfully casual about sketch, but that felt like too much of a disparity between Annie’s heightened aesthetic and formalism that she brings to St. Vincent, so we decided to elevate the narrative to match that,” Brownstein said. “And we were interested in doing something that was hybrid and spoke to the mystery of music itself. So we didn’t want something too on the nose, and that’s why it is sort of genre bending.”
“And I think we recognized too that even documentaries, which purport to tell the truth about a subject, are still coming from a lens,” Clark added. “There’s still a narrative that is crafted and still gets final approval from whatever artist.”
Benz said Clark and Brownstein’s script and the film’s visual style was inspired by the ’70s art house films by Nicolas Roeg working with Mick Jagger on films like “Performance” as well as the films of Peter Greenaway.
“Just the formalism of Greenaway and the psychedelic, psychotic Roeg elements were all things we discussed a lot before shooting, and that was sort of the guiding light of the whole project,” Benz said.
Clark and Brownstein even wrote a song for the film, the title track “The Nowhere Inn,” that was inspired by the crooner sound of Roy Orbison and Patsy Cline, but also the “psychedelic and bonkers” influences of Roeg’s movies.
“We wrote the song in a day. We wanted it to actually reference things in the script and the film and really be weaved into the narrative of the film so deeply,” Clark said. “So we were thinking of what’s a kind of metaphor for the place that people can get to that they go so far down the road of narcissism or the dream that they’re in a kind of personal purgatory. Yeah, it’s ‘The Nowhere Inn.'”
“It really worked to sort of take the beginning part, which we worked out the topline and the melodies together, and then marry it with the second half, because that’s kind of how the film is. It’s sort of this Frankenstein of characters,” Brownstein added.”
Clark and Brownstein said that “The Nowhere Inn” is completely scripted and doesn’t purport to show the “real” them, but there is some truth to it as well.
“We definitely are circling around truths and the essence of one another. But I think we wanted to revel and enjoy the fiction of it,” Brownstein said. “Not worry about authenticity, not worrying about getting at who you truly were. We do get at something that’s very heartfelt and emotional, but we spiral around it.”
“And there are lots of things in there that are true and painful and real, but they’re in the context of a whole lot of other things in this style. It’s not necessarily as easy to parse out the literal truth from the fiction,” Clark added.
If Clark really is retiring the St. Vincent persona however, what does she think about the prospect of more acting?
“I really enjoyed acting in this movie. But that said, there couldn’t have been a more welcoming way. A thing I co-wrote with my best friend that we star in together, with Bill who is so great and cozy. It was a very easy first introduction to being in film,” she said.
Check out a clip of TheWrap’s interview at Sundance with Clark, Brownstein and Benz above.