Anonymous Club

Directed by: Danny Cohen
Distributed by: Oscilloscope

Written by Michael Clawson

A renowned rock musician known for her affectless vocals and peerlessly clever lyrics, Courtney Barnett might be a virtuosic songwriter, but that doesn’t mean she’s always able to find the right words. Towards the beginning of “Anonymous Club,” a documentary about the Australian artist directed by Danny Cohen, clips of Barnett being interviewed by journalists show just how painfully difficult it is for her to articulate the emotion behind her music (which she packages in songs with titles like “Crippling Self-Doubt and A General Lack of Confidence”). With that in mind, Cohen is wise to essentially let Barnett interview herself for his film. “Anonymous Club” follows Barnett on tour, and while she does occasionally speak directly to the camera – usually when she’s shaking off pre-performance jitters backstage or tinkering with new songs in hotel rooms – most of what we hear from Barnett comes through an audio diary she made using a dictaphone provided by Cohen. It would be moving enough just to hear Barnett speak so honestly about the things that can bring her down, which include insecurities about her talent, the monotony of touring, and feelings of purposelessness, but what’s most affecting about “Anonymous Club” is how it marries sound and image. Barnett’s voiceover doesn’t often line up with what we see her doing: as a result, sonically, she feels close, but visually, she often feels far away. It’s a stirring effect and fitting for a documentary that’s far more interested in capturing its subject’s mood than in conveying biographical detail. If the movie does occasionally feel a bit light on substance, the texture in Cohen’s 16mm images motivates you to keep watching, while Barnett’s music motivates you to keep listening.

“Anonymous Club” Trailer

Michael Clawson is a member of the Seattle Film Critic Society you can follow his passion for film on Letterboxd.

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