A SKIN TOO FEW: THE DAYS OF NICK DRAKENR
The 1999 Dutch-produced A Skin Too Few: The Days of Nick Drake takes a look back at the brief, troubled and puzzling life of Brit folk artist Drake, who, having cut three albums but unhappy with road tours, ultimately succumbed to an overdose of anti-depressants at the age of 26 in 1974. The documentary never uncovers whether his death was accidental or otherwise, but provides evidence of a preternaturally fragile being.
While there is no actual footage of the adult Drake, he emerges by way of stills, home movies, voice-overs from his parents, and commentary from such talking heads as his actress sister Gabrielle, his former record producer and engineer, and pals at Cambridge, where he lasted a year or two.
Drake was the offspring of very comfortable, artistically inclined parents who composed music and wrote poetry. In fact, it was his mother who, alluding to her son's ultra-sensitivity, described Drake as being of a 'skin too few.' Born into privilege in Burma, Drake moved with his family to the rural town of Tanworth-in-Arden in England. He attended Cambridge for a few years in the '60s, where already a stricken personality became evident. A friend from those student days describes Drake as a loner who took his share of drugs and believed he was superior to his peers.
Eventually, the college dropout turned his hobby of playing guitar and writing music into what promised to be a successful career. Drake's style and music, abundant on the soundtrack, suggests a kinship with Donovan. His light-as-air voice floats easily but integrally over poetically tinged lyrics.
But when Drake hit the road, he was hit by the brutal realities of concertizing. Audiences at his club dates talked while the artist played and this disturbed him profoundly. With 'skin too few,' he quit the business. Drake's descent was the result of a cataclysmic inability to cope. He became more and more isolated and more and more dependent on drugs.
While the film's many faces and voice-overs are articulate testimonies to Drake's pain, it is the frequent shots of the often rainy, rural countryside that is the most 'vocal' visual metaphor of his depressed state. A Skin Too Few may tell a sad story, but it tells it with so much artistry and to such emotional effect that the film is one of those rare works that resonates long after it's over.
The 1994 20-minute short In Motion precedes the Drake portrait. Functioning as the perfect opening act, it's a stylish, jazzy riff on music, creativity and nocturnal New York streetscapes, delivered by way of a dedicated sax player and sometime cabbie.
This thoroughly rewarding program will especially please college folk, old folkies nostalgic for the '60s, and those film folk who fondly remember those sometimes heartfelt and funky docs made in the good old Bolex-Nagra days.