Continuing my apparent inability to watch anything that isn’t an arts documentary, I saw a couple of music documentaries last night.
The second of these was Rock N Roll Nerd, which follows the career of musical comedian Tim Minchin. It was a well made documentary, with two very strong points in its favour. First, director Rhian Skirving is obviously a friend of Tin Minchin and his wife Sarah, so they’re remarkably candid on camera. Secondly, exceptional timing means that Skirving can follow Minchin‘s career from its very beginning, even shooting his first Edward Scissorhands haircut. Minchin‘s determination is clear from the start, and it’s interesting to watch him develop his act and persona as the film goes on (even changing his entire look to create a stage presence he thinks will be more sellable). Possibly slightly longer than it needs to be, it’s a solid piece of work.
The first was I Think We’re Alone Now, a film that follows two fans/stalkers of former pop sensation Tiffany. You might not remember Tiffany – her biggest hit was in 1987. And so was her other hit. But 20 years later she’s still being followed/stalked by obsessive fans, and this documentary follows two of them. Sean Donnelly‘s film is rough-hewn video, with no attempt to pretty things up. The credits are handwritten, and it’s not even widescreen. It’s all very unglamourous, which suits the subject perfectly.
The audience starts off laughing at Jeff Turner and Kelly McCormick as they talk about Tiffany and the special bonds they share with her. These characters are so deluded, so crazy. But the laughter fades away as we learn more of these people’s lives. Turner has Aspergers Syndrome, McCormick was born intersex. Both had military parents who showed them no love. They live on government pensions, and both are single. Turner‘s last “physical interaction” with a woman was in 1992. They are broken people, hopelessly lonely, who somehow have fixated on Tiffany as their salvation. Both are certain that Tiffany loves them and they are destined to be together.
The film never explains why it’s Tiffany they’re obsessed with – it’s hard to imagine they could explain it themselves. You sense they aren’t stalking Tiffany because she’s successful, rather it’s her unpopularity that attracts them. Like them, Tiffany is damaged goods, playing gigs at fun fairs and gay bars, doing Playboy shoots and appearing at sex conventions, bringing out the same tired songs for an uncaring audience. She appears fleetingly in the doco, signing autographs, posing for photos – and looking genuinely scared of Turner (who was once arrested for trying to give her a samurai sword as a gift).
You go in to this film to see a freakshow, but what you find is a mirror, albeit a distorting one. One of Turner‘s friends explains that a person with Aspergers is incapable of seeing when people are bored and trying to get out of a conversation – haven’t most of us been that person at some point in their life? How many of us haven’t been fans of someone, haven’t had a crush on someone who wasn’t interested? How far away are we from Jeff and Kelly? Maybe we aren’t building our own electronic equipment to read Tiffany’s mind, or sticking pictures of Tiffany all over our lounge-room walls, but what if the dice had fallen slightly differently and you had grown up without any idea of love, or in embryo your body chemistry had been slightly off? A young woman who runs a Tiffany chatroom appears to claim that Turner is a nutter while she’s just a woman who spends too much time on the internet, but surely it’s just a matter of degree between the two of them. Between any of us.
When Turner and McCormick finally meet, you realise neither can really hold a conversation – they blurt non-sequiters at each other and hope for the best. They lack any skills in social interaction, and even Tiffany can’t help as they compete over who had the most meaningful encounter with her.
By the time the film ended the only people still laughing were a handful of young women scattered through the audience. I was astonished they could be so devoid of empathy – they obviously thought they could never be Kelly or Jeff. Perhaps they were relieved, that laughing at these people assured them they were normal, they were safe. I was surprised how moved I was, and how sad I was for these terribly wounded people. I Think We’re Alone Now is aptly named, and well-worth seeing.
The trailer for I Think We’re Alone Now:
And here’s Tim Minchin and Geraldine Quinn performing Leonard Cohen‘s Hallelujah in Edinburgh, 2005. Dodgy video quality, but a nice performance.
I Think We’re Alone Now plays on Sunday, 10th August at 3.15pm