Sunday World [Dublin, Ireland]
October 2, 2022
By Esther McCarthy
The reaction to her tearing up a photo of the Pope on Saturday Night Live forms the core of Nothing Compares, a new documentary about the Irish icon
“They tried to bury me, but they didn’t realise I was a seed,” says Sinéad O’Connor in a gritty new documentary about how she highlighted injustice at the height of her fame. “They broke my heart and they killed me, but I didn’t die.”
This account of the reaction to her tearing up a photo of the Pope on Saturday Night Live in 1992 forms the core of Nothing Compares, a new documentary about the Irish icon.
Focusing on her rapid career rise and fame from 1987 to 1993, the movie — released in cinemas next weekend — revisits that turbulent time and argues that her actions played a part in a huge cultural sea change.
She was, she says now, moved to the action that made headlines worldwide following revelations about abuse in the Catholic Church across many countries including Ireland.
“I had come across an article about families who had been trying to lodge complaints against the Church over sexual abuse and were being silenced,” she says in the documentary. “Basically, everything I had been raised to believe was a lie.”
As a protest to the cover-up, Sinéad decided to tear the photo towards the end of the SNL performance of Bob Marley’s song, War. As the star blew out the candles on stage to an eerie silence, her then publicist Elaine Schock followed her into her dressing room.
“I had gone into the dressing room after her and I said: ‘You know, I can’t get you out of this’. And she said: ‘You know what? I don’t want you to’.
[PHOTO: Sinéad O’Connor — © Anton CorbijnAnton Corbijn/Court]
Speaking now of that time, Sinéad says it was the right decision and adds: “An artist’s job is sometimes to create difficult conversations that need to be had. That’s what art is for.”
Having already experienced jeers when she refused to go on stage if the US national anthem was performed before her gig, Sinéad would have no doubt expected a reaction. But she could not have anticipated what was to come.
Death threats were sent to her management, while a performance at a Bob Dylan tribute gig weeks later saw her met with a thundering mix of jeers and cheers.
“Don’t let the bastards get you down,” Kris Kristofferson is heard telling her, to which she replies: “I’m not down.”
Directed by Belfast-born filmmaker Kathryn Ferguson, Nothing Compares celebrates O’Connor’s musical, cultural and social legacy.
Looking back on that era now, it’s hard to believe that any female artist in modern times would be so pilloried for expressing their views.
The documentary is a comprehensive account of the remarkable rise to fame of the Dublin singer, who was already a respected performer before her version of Prince’s Nothing Compares 2U became a number one hit all over the world, with a video that features in the greatest-ever lists to this day.
[PHOTO: Sinéad O’Connor — © BP Fallon/Courtesy of SHOWTIIME]
As well as Sinéad herself, the movie features contributions from her first husband, close friend and musical collaborator John Reynolds, Sunday Worldcolumnist Brian D’Arcy, and the friends and musicians who first experienced her remarkable talent.
“When Sinéad burst into my consciousness as a young teenager, it felt like a door had been kicked open,” says filmmaker Kathryn Ferguson in her notes on the documentary.
“Here was a bold Irish woman who said things that others didn’t feel they could say, and she said them loudly.
[PHOTO: Sinead’s talent shone through from a young age — ]
“As a teenager and a huge fan of her music, I was deeply saddened and confused by how she was treated for putting her head above the parapet.
“It felt very demoralising and is something that has stuck with me my entire life.”
After going on to study filmmaking and working on a music video for Sinéad’s single 4th and Vine in 2013, Ferguson started to explore the idea of making a film about the Dubliner’s remarkable rise.
Nothing Compares opens in cinemas on October 7.