Nothing Compares delves so much deeper and left me emotionally shell-shocked at the impact and influence of a woman I had always recognised but never truly understood.
Written by Tresca Mallon / October 7, 2022
Growing up in the early 00s in Ireland, Sinéad O’Connor tearing up a picture of the pope on live television was as almost as famous as the moon landing. O’Connor was the poster child of what not to do, who not to be as a young Irish Catholic woman - so obviously I thought she was class. In the Catholic church being described as a ‘sheep’ is an accolade, not a curse. Sinéad O’Connor was never content with blindly following, never going to tolerate being shepherded by an institution which had caused her, and generations of women before her, suffering and subjugation. She was always going to speak out. Despite being aware of Sinéad as an artist and feminist icon, before watching Nothing Compares, I hadn’t given much thought to the extent of the subversion and the braveness of Sinéad’s actions in 1992. I certainly hadn’t spent the time investigating her long history of activism or the trauma which led her to that moment, or the many heavily, negatively publicised moments which followed. To me Sinéad was an Irish artist, with a shaved head, who sang one of the greatest songs of all time and then shocked the world.
Using archival footage and first-hand interviews, Nothing Compares uses Sinéad’s voice and the voices of those who’ve known her over the years to tell the story of her early years, rise to fame and ultimate fall from public grace. Speaking at the Disappear Here festival in Donegal, producer Michael Mallie shared his surprise that, despite how incredibly famous Sinéad was at the time, there is very little archive footage of her performance. Piecing together concert recordings,interviews and found footage, interspersed with gorgeously abstract recreations, O’Connor’s story is brought to life. The decision to completely forgo talking heads is inspired and allows a fully immersive experience. I was pleasantly surprised and endeared by the softly spoken and humble artist with a bold and haunting singing voice.
Director Kathyrn Ferguson has spoken about Prince’s estate’s refusal to allow the use of the seminal song which gives the film its name. While obviously disappointing for the filmmakers, the song’s absence is fitting. Everyone knows "Nothing Compares 2 U" but no one really knows Sinéad O’Connor. This film goes some way to rectifying that. As Mallie suggested at the screening in Donegal, for years there has been a perception that O’Connor is irrational and changeable, in need of help, pity or derision. However, using a strong narrative throughline, Nothing Compares tracks the moments in which she chose to be outspoken and proves that there was always a thread which connected the issues she speaks so passionately about. Sinéad was and is steadfast in her support of those who are oppressed, subjugated and subdued by the establishment. For this she was vilified and discredited. Finally we are listening.