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With: Nick Drake (archive footage), Paul Weller, Gabrielle Drake, Brian Wells, Joe Boyd, Robert Kirby, John Wood, Mary Lloyd 'Molly' Drake, Keith Morris
Written by: n/a
Directed by: Jeroen Berkvens
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 48
Date: 04/19/2002

A Skin Too Few: The Days of Nick Drake (2002)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Magic Crazy as This

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Back in 1990, pop music seemed to have hit an all-time low with thelikes of New Kids on the Block and Vanilla Ice ruling the charts. Out ofnowhere, Columbia records released a two-CD box set called "RobertJohnson: The Complete Recordings," expecting to sell something like20,000 copies. But sales rocketed to half a million, and possibly evenhigher today.

Robert Johnson was a blues musician who died in 1938 at the age of 27 with only 39 songs recorded. Very little was known about him -- only two photographs of him exist -- and legend has it he sold his soul to the devil in exchange for his astonishing musical skill. But long after his death, he offered something real in the midst of all the phoniness and people grabbed it.

Only ten years later, history repeated itself. In 2000, the Backstreet Boys, N'Sync and Britney Spears were all over the charts and the quality of music seemed to sink lower than ever before (strangely, this seems to happen whenever a Bush occupies the White House). But, out of nowhere, Volkswagen ran a TV commercial using a song called "Pink Moon" by a musician called Nick Drake.

Again, people latched onto the genuineness of this music, and sales of Drake's 1972 album of the same name took a huge leap upward (it jumped from 6000 units sold in 1999 to 74,000 in 2000).

Like Johnson, Drake died young, at age 26, with only three full albums and a handful of outtakes recorded. And, also like Johnson, very little is known about him.

Which is where Jeroen Berkvens' new documentary A Skin Too Few: The Days of Nick Drake comes in. It opens today at the Roxie for a week's run.

The film interviews the surviving members of Drake's incredibly small circle of friends and loved ones. His sister, the lovely actress Gabrielle Drake (There's a Girl in My Soup) provides most of the information, describing Nick's loneliness and sadness and revealing that their mother was quite a talented singer/songwriter with a similar style to Nick's.

A Skin Too Few runs only 48 minutes. Apparently no motion picture footage of the grown-up Drake exists, but Berkvens shows Super 8 home movies of Drake as a child with his family, and cleverly edits photographs of the grown-up Drake to create the illusion of movement. He also provides plenty of Drake music and -- as in Owsley Brown's exceptional Night Waltz: The Music of Paul Bowles -- adds gorgeous, cleverly lighted nature scenes, perfectly complimenting the sadness and beauty of Drake's music.

What made Drake so powerful was his absolute need to play music -- he had no choice in the matter, like Robert Johnson or Kurt Cobain. If he didn't play, he'd go screaming mad. And so the emotions that pour out from the playback absolutely real. (You certainly can't say the same for N'Sync.)

All I can say is that hearing Drake's music in this context stirred my soul. During one song, I muttered an astonished "Oh My God" at the aching beauty of it. Count me in as a fan.

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