A Skin Too Few: The Days of Nick Drake
dir. Berkvens
Sun Jan 27, 7 pm
Guild Theater

An atmosphere of sorrow and mystery surrounds English songwriter Nick Drake. Not much is known about him, and there's no footage of him performing live. His career was fairly stagnant and he never got very popular, despite the release of three records. He cancelled his only tour because his audiences were too concerned with drinking and chatting than listening to him play. (Let this be a lesson to all.) This punctured his fragile ego and contributed to his depression; he swallowed a handful of pills in 1974, ending his life at age 25. But while he was alive, he wrote some of the most touching, beautiful music ever, fingerpicked delicately on his acoustic guitar, sung in his soothing, lullaby voice and decorated with string arrangements.

In A Skin Too Few: The Days of Nick Drake, director Jeroan Berkvens tries to pick up the pieces of Drake's tragic life and illuminate what happened to make one of the greatest talents in rock fall victim to his own perceived failings. Berkvens starts at the beginning, with old Super 8 footage of Nick's family at the beach. Mostly by talking to Gabrielle Drake, Nick's sister, Berkvens patches a loose biography of Nick, who spent his youth listening to songs his mother wrote (one of which we get to hear; it's remarkable how much she influenced him). A series of interviews with Nick's parents, school chums, manager, and producers paint Nick as a sweet yet stricken person who thought he had something important to say. He never desired great riches or fame or any of the other trappings that ruin people's art; he just wanted to connect with his generation.

This is a depressing realization. But Berkvens has made such a gorgeous film, so full of Nick Drake's essence, it doesn't matter. The footage glorifies life, with sweeping shots of the neon green of the English countryside, bursts of rain pattering on the window of Nick's actual room in his parent's home, furry trees swaying in the wind. There's no doubt that A Skin Too Few is a loving tribute, lush with Nick Drake's music. His heart permeates the whole film.