Annie Clark further obfuscates the line between the person and the rock star in the beguiling The Nowhere Inn. If it initially appears to be a St. Vincent tour doc directed by Carrie Brownstein, it’s not long before the film’s taken its audience down the rabbit hole, becoming something much stranger and funnier in the process (and actually directed by Bill Benz). Co-written by Clark and Brownstein, the self-described “meta-documentary” furthers extrapolates the themes explored in St. Vincent’s audacious fifth album, Masseduction—namely the idea that fame and power are just as addicting as any drug. It’s when Clark leans into the intoxicating effects of her stage persona that St. Vincent begins to envelope the musician, Brownstein, and The Nowhere Inn itself.
All of that is to say: When The A.V. Club logged on to Zoom for a conversation in support of The Nowhere Inn, we weren’t sure who we’d be talking to, Annie Clark or St. Vincent. Just a few days shy of the start of the Daddy’s Home tour, St. Vincent must’ve been on vocal rest, because Clark was on press duty, eager to dive into the mysteries of her new film. First mystery on the docket: How do you define a film like The Nowhere Inn—does “mockumentary” do it justice? Elsewhere in our conversation, Clark discusses Dakota Johnson’s cameo, The Art Of Cruelty, and shares her optimistic take on what it means for an artist to be in their “flop era.” You can watch the conversation with Annie Clark in the following video, or read the full transcript below.
The A.V. Club: Our obsession with labeling things has lead many to refer to The Nowhere Inn as a “mockumentary.” What does it mean to you, for something to be called a mockumentary? Does that feel like an apt descriptor of what you’ve created?
Annie Clark: I’m not totally sure what to call this movie except “bananas.” [Laughs.] I mean, I’ve also heard “meta-doc,” which, that sounds a little less fun than mockumentary, but mockumentary doesn’t really do it either. I mean, basically, it’s a... well, again, basically, it’s a fill-in-the-blank, I have no idea. [Laughs.] It’s a movie, a scripted film that I made with my best friend [Carrie Brownstein] and my really good friend Bill Benz that is a rumination on the hilarity and pitfalls of the idea of “rock star.”
AVC: Of course, this premiered at Sundance in 2020, and the world has changed a number of ways since then—
AC: [Jokingly] What’s been going on?
AVC: [Laughs.] A lot. But, specifically, in regard to your career, The Nowhere Inn is very much borne of your Masseduction album and the tour in support of it. But now here you are, about to embark on your Daddy’s Home tour—has your relationship to any of the themes explored in the film changed since filming?
AC: Gosh, this movie to me still definitely feels really relevant, in terms of things that I think about: the performance of identity, or the ways in which people can unwittingly become absolute slaves to their own narcissism and end up doing terrible things to people they love in service of their own ego. So, I mean, that is definitely really relevant and definitely one of those things that I’m very wary of. But I think it’ll be really fun to go out and perform this Daddy’s Home material with The Nowhere Inn in the world, to be able to have that conversation while I’m also playing shows every night.
AVC: Because every single detail of the film feels very intentional, I wanted to ask you about the inclusion of The Art Of Cruelty in that opening scene.
AC: I love Maggie Nelson, and I love that book. Some of the ideas in that book definitely influenced the writing of The Nowhere Inn.
AVC: So is the Art Of Cruelty the key to figuring out the mysteries of The Nowhere Inn?
AC: You know what, Cameron? I’m going to say yes, because I think that book should be required reading for everybody.
AVC: Nelson says, “When things are going well with art-making and art-viewing, art doesn’t really say or teach anything.” Do you agree with that sentiment? At least in terms of your music, the art you create?
AC: I think it’s not necessary to hurl yourself into pain in order to write. I think that poetic idea of “pain equaling good art” is very flawed. It absolutely happens, but it’s not necessarily causational in that in the same way. Because you can be in a lot of pain and make terrible art—[laughs,] you know, been there! So it’s not exactly causal like that.
But in the way that all things are so deeply interconnected culturally and politically, the ideas that we’re wrestling with at the time are going to get exorcised through the art that we make. That’s the point: for art to either be dangerous, and buck up against prevailing narratives, or just thrash around. Thrash it all around and figure out what we really think, what the true kind of human heartbeat is in all of it.
AVC: I wanted to draw a fuzzy line between that Nelson quote, and something that Carrie says early in The Nowhere Inn; she worries she’s in “an era of failure”—perhaps a “flop era,” as the internet likes to call it. What does the flop era assertion mean to you? Is that something you’re conscious of, as an artist? Can good art come from a flop era?
AC: Well, the thing is, if you are in a “flop era,” it means that you have eras! It means that you’ve been around long enough, and are making things that are relevant enough to still be part of the conversation, to where people can call them flops, or whatever. And there’s also sort of a presupposition in there that there will be a next era: “Oh, you might be in your flop era, but...” And I think it’s—in a roundabout way—a compliment.
AVC: With the mere seconds we have left, I just want to say I’m grateful that this movie understands how funny Dakota Johnson is—because she’s very, very funny!
AC: [Laughs.] Bless her heart for doing this—bless her heart! I mean, I think we’ve both had fun with our identity in this. I mean, to be like, “Hey DJ, I’m just going to need you to show up in lingerie for the shoot. You don’t mind, right?” [Laughs.] And she was way more comfortable in lingerie than I was!
AVC: I guess Fifty Shades would help with that—
AC: Exactly! She’s had practice. No, but she was very sweet to do this movie. [Laughs.]
IFC Films’ The Nowhere Inn plays select theaters, and is available on VOD platforms, beginning September 17.