Courtney Barnett Plays Herself and Director (kinda) in "Anonymous Club"
She's so shy, I don't know why, but boy does this film try.
At the start of Danny Cohen’s Anonymous Club, the rocku-road trip-mentary that also serves as a diary project, we see the film’s subject Courtney Barnett - the young Melbourne musician and wordsmith - autographing some items for an international fan. Courtney, with a smile and a little exhaustion but a willingness to please, obliges this male fan’s requests to sign a few things, including his shirt. He asks for song lyrics, which he knows by heart. Courtney, tired but still smiling, writes along with her marker to each line the fan recites. She knows the words at heart, but at this moment could use some caffeine.
Or perhaps she’s just nervous.
Still, she keeps on keeping on.
Anonymous Club follows the now thirty-something-year-old performer on a world tour, where she documents her thoughts and feeling into a dictaphone recorder, at the behest of director Danny Cohen, to serve as both emotional directions for the pace of the movie and as a creative voiceover to the scenes between the scenes. Courtney once more obliges, getting personal about her shyness and her sadness, even while everyone sings along with her. Especially while everyone sings along with her.
In the vast catalog of concert-like films and musician-based documentaries, Anonymous Club stands out mostly on the shoulders of its lead. Courtney Barnett just has a wonderful way with words on stage, but also a highly personable and relatable state of mind and soul when by herself. Danny Cohen, who worked previously as a cinematographer, captures such graceful and ethereal visuals with an eye for serendipity and thoughtfulness for the naturally lovely and deep. We see Courtney walk through street steam, smiling toward the camera, perhaps thinking about the shot that’s just been produced. Here, just as on the dictaphone, she’s in control of her story.
Why she isn’t listed as a co-director is beyond me, but Courtney nevertheless makes some flashy if maybe artificially manipulated footage. That’s fine, the special effects. The low-fi film look. It adds to the independent and behind-the-curtain feel that the movie goes for. Does it achieve this? By default, sure. By post-production, yes.
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Again, why Courtney herself wasn’t listed as a co-director is beyond me.
It’s not groundbreaking, nor should it have to be. Following a once in a generation artist is enough. Getting into her state of mind is a plus. And being directed by her moods and motions? Incredible. No knock to Danny Cohen of course, who keeps up with her pace and her modes of being through superb camera work and cutting. The concept is excellent, letting a subject record their own tale as it goes along, and Danny is an equal storyteller alongside Courtney. Nothing ever goes off of the rails, though there’s also not much else to go on except for Courtney’s inner monologues, echoing off the walls as she presses down on a button.
It’s a diary. It’s intimate. And that’s enough. Just… enough.
Could’ve used some caffeine. Or maybe it was too nervous for that. 3.5/5
Anonymous Club is currently on the theatrical circuit. Courtney Barnett will perform in New Orleans at the Joy Theater on September 6.