A Skin Too Few: The Days of Nick Drake

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A Skin Too Few - The Days of Nick Drake [2000]
Documentary about the mysterious singer-songwriter.

 

IMDb Summary

  • A study, mostly chronological, of the life of Nick Drake (1948-1974). Gabrielle, his older sister, tells us of her brother's birth in Burma, childhood in Warwickshire, life at Cambridge and in London, then back to his parents' home in Tanworth. His parents describe his habits and personality. Two friends and the producer, arranger, sound engineer, and photographer for his three albums comment. His mother, a musician and poet, is an early influence. His quiet folk style made his one tour a disaster. His lack of success and gradual withdrawal end with his death at 26. Eleven of his recordings play on the soundtrack, usually as we see his room, a city, or the Warwickshire countryside.

 



REVIEW: In His Skin: The View From a Late Folkie’s Bedroom Window
by DENNIS LIM
APRIL 27, 2004

Save for a few childhood home movies, there exists no film footage of Nick Drake. A Skin Too Few, Jeroen Berkvens’s whispery portrait of the folkie mope-god, clocks in at a mere 48 minutes, and its brevity reflects not only a dearth of source material but the filmmaker’s reverential attempt to safeguard the enigma of his subject, who OD’d 30 years ago at age 26. Berkvens corrals a few semi-informative talking heads: producer Joe Boyd, a Cambridge buddy who reveals they smoked lots of pot, and sister Gabrielle, who, along with the imposing family manse in poshly pastoral Tanworth-in-Arden, serves as reminder of the Poor Boy’s hardly modest origins.

Checking off the bio points no doubt familiar to anyone with a battered Fruit Tree box set (and maybe even to those who know Drake chiefly as Volkswagen pitchman), Skin is less life story than luxuriant mood bath. The film leans on the sturdiest of soundtrack crutches—there’s almost no image that a Drake song couldn’t poeticize. Still, the patient, lovely shots of desolate villages and rolling green hills bespeak an intuitive connection with the music’s paradoxical magic, its shivery conflation of warmth and chill, intimacy and loneliness. In his boldest move, Berkvens takes us inside “Nick’s room”—interior reconstructed from old photos, the dramatic landscape outside captured by the Dutch director with light seemingly imported from a Vermeer. (One nifty bit of wizardry even suggests the nocturnal illumination of a pink moon.) The most haunting moment—from beyond the grave, but not who you’d expect—comes when Gabrielle plays a tape of a piano composition by their mother. The Molly Drake original turns out to be a sinuously ethereal quasi-Renaissance Faire air; the family resemblance is uncanny and unspeakably moving—it’s as if you’re hearing her son again for the first time.

 



 

Genre: Documentary, Musical & Performing Arts
Directed By: Jeroen Berkvens
In Theaters: Jan 1, 2005  wide
Runtime: 48 minutes
Studio: Roxie Releasing

TOMATOMETER  CRITICS 100&  | AUDIENCE 83%

 



 Rotten Tomato CRITICS REVIEWS

May 2, 2008
Dennis Harvey  Variety Top Critic
A brief but haunting musical legacy is paid fittingly brief, lyrical tribute in veteran Dutch documentarian Jeroen Berkven's featurette A Skin Too Few.

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May 6, 2004 | Rating: 3/5
Stephen Holden New York Times Top Critic
Directed by Jeroen Berkvens
Not rated, 48 minutes

How do you film a biography of an enigma who died at such a young age (26) that he barely had a life? One way is keep it short. Jeroen Berkvens's tender tribute, ''A Skin Too Few: The Days of Nick Drake,'' is only 48 minutes long. During part of that time the camera gazes at the pastoral landscape around Tanworth-in-Arden, the English village where Drake grew up in upper-middle-class comfort. With his haunting music playing in the background, these scenes define the film, which opens today in Manhattan, as a cinematic tone poem as much as a biography.

The word haunting is not idly chosen. Before he died in 1974 from an overdose of the antidepressant Tryptizol (whether accidental or deliberate, no one will ever know), Drake released three albums that carried a strain of introspective British folk-pop to a zenith of pure beauty. A folk crooner in the tradition of Donovan in his hippie pied-piper days, Drake wrote songs suffused with dreamy private imagery that drifted like smoke rings around his intense, rich guitar, finished off with some of the most evocative orchestrations ever attached to popular song. Even the peppier songs hinted at an underlying melancholy.

The movie's main voice belongs to Drake's older sister, Gabrielle, an actress, who outlines the family history and plays a recording of a song written by Drake's mother, Molly (a composer and poet herself), that is astoundingly similar in mood to her son's work.

Drake emerges as a painfully shy introvert, obsessed with his guitar, who expressed himself predominantly in music. He attended Cambridge without finishing. In 1969, under the aegis of the record producer Joe Boyd, he undertook a commercially unsuccessful solo career. In the movie Mr. Boyd recalls that Drake was deeply disheartened at having to cancel a tour because no one in the noisy clubs paid attention.

Drake fell into a depression so profound that in his final recording session he could no longer play and sing at the same time. By then he had retreated to his parents' home, where he died, Nov. 25, 1974. Since then his legend has circulated first through word of mouth and later through a television commercial several years ago that featured his song ''Pink Moon.'' Today if you type ''Nick Drake'' into Google.com, you will find 150,000 references.

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May 7, 2004 | Rating: 3.5/5
Ken Fox TV Guide

In the years following his death in 1974, Nick Drake's musical legacy languished in the same state of obscurity as it did during his lifetime, known — and deeply loved — by British folk enthusiasts and clued-in hipsters. And then came the TV spot for the revamped Volkswagen Beetle that prominently featured Drake's haunting "Pink Moon" on the soundtrack. No matter that the lyrics are probably about death; it proved the perfect song to sell an updated symbol of the '60s to 21st-century post-baby boomers, and introduced a new generation to one of the great tragic talents of the early '70s.

This short, beautifully crafted film from the Netherlands does right by Drake, who poses a unique challenge to any documentary biographer. Not only is little known about a man who, after recording three short albums of songs, died at the age of 26, but there isn't a single extant frame of footage of Drake as an adult. But in many ways these obstacles help shape the film into something evocative of Drake's intensely personal music; as Drake sings of himself in "Know," he's simply not there. Resourceful filmmaker Jeroen Berkvens makes good use of what he's got: Super-8 home movies shot in Rangoon, Burma, where Drake was born; footage of Drake's bedroom in upper-middle-class Tanworth-in-Arden where Nick, his parents, Rodney and Molly, and Nick's older sister, Gabrielle, moved when Nick was four. Berkvens similarly shoots around Cambridge University, where Nick read the great English poets, and then London, where Drake moved in 1969 to pursue a recording career.

Efforts by his label to turn him into a star were hampered by public disinterest and Drake's own deteriorating mental state. Growing increasingly isolated and silent, Drake eventually retreated to his childhood home where, overwhelmed by a sense of failure, he ended his life with an overdose of antidepressants that might have been accidental.

There may not be much more to say about Drake's life, but Berkvens fleshes this 47-minute film out with interesting bits, like a demonstration of the way sound engineer John Wood and arranger Robert Kirby achieved the lonesome sound of Drake's "Chimes of the City Clock." Drake's parents are only heard in voice-over, but Gabrielle, an actress, speaks eloquently about her brother's life, death and the price one ultimately pays for coming from a loving family: terrible grief.

It's a lovely tribute to an extraordinary talent whose music might have been forgotten, and you really couldn't ask for a more beautiful soundtrack.

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 Rotten Tomato AUDIENCE REVIEWS

 

**** Michael T
July 30, 2013
Poignant short documentary about musician Nick Drake.

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*** ½ A.D. O
November 26, 2011
a great introduction to the man for those who are not already fans. side note: his sister is a treat.

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**** Lester Y
March 1, 2009
Far from the tired old informative A&E Biography fare, this is a breezy, artful documentary about a musician I have one of the strongest emotional connections to. Like the man's music, the film is dark, bleak, intimate, poetic. It's also very elegant, static cinematography tinted with Drake's compositions. Naturally recommended for any fan, but anyone even remotely interested in one of the most important figures in 20th century music should watch it as well.

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**** Gary K
February 27, 2009
Drake is one of music's more enigmatic figures. Incredibly talented and deeply troubled, Drake left just three albums before his death at age 26. "A Skin Too Few..." is as much a showcase for Drake's music as it is a documentary of his short life. While most Americans came to know Drake through VW's use of "Pink Moon" in a commercial, his work is finally getting the widespread recognition and status it deserves. "A Skin Too Few..." is an interesting journey for even casual fans.

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David A
December 21, 2008
I've been meaning to check out Nick Drakes music, and after watching this short but wonderful documentary about him, I now plan on it.

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*** Trent R
August 21, 2008
Incredibly insightful for so short a doc with relatively little material to draw upon.

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**** ½ Tim D
August 14, 2008
Beautiful Cinematography, Artful Direction.
Great behind the scenes music production information and interviews.

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*** ½ Stief K
½ July 28, 2008
Must see Docu if you into Drake,wished it lasted a bit longer though ( the docu and his life)

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*** ½ Ryan V
½ March 27, 2008
Real good, I like documentaries about interesting people, like me for instance, kidding. It was a bit dark, though. Man, I thought I was lonely.
Super Reviewer

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** Michael G
March 25, 2008
For a documentary about someone who made such wonderful music, this is incredibly boring. The segues between topics were nicely done and wonderfully reflected Nick Drake's music but the rambling musings of Drake's pretentious sister really killed it for me. The commentaries made by those who worked with Drake were kind of interesting but overall this documentary kind of ruined the myth of Drake for me.

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**** Berk M
March 5, 2008
I thought that this was really well made, his life laid out really clearly, split into sections. It felt really personal because of all the interviews with the people closest to him, describing what he was like, and the fact that it showed his house etc. The wide shots of landscapes scattered throughout the movie with Nick's songs over them are also a nice touch. I suppose a big part of how much I like biopics will be how much it manages to teach me about the person and this one scores highly on that as well. I can't really give this a 5 as it is a 'classic' documentary but it's definitely essential for fans and quite interesting for people who want to learn more about Nick Drake.

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****½ Tom H
December 26, 2007
Awesome, Drake was a genius, way ahead of his time. Sheds a lot of light on his life and times. Its quite unbelievable how he never found a wide audience during his short life. A great musician who wrote consistently good songs.

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****Dave M
October 3, 2007
Essential for fans, only mildly interesting for all others. You must get the album "Five Leaves Left."

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***** Private U
September 24, 2007
i love this docu..his music bla bla

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Caleb C
½ September 20, 2007
I like Nick Drake and I liked this documentary.

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***½  Jeff S
September 19, 2007
A look into the troubled, short life of hugely influencial, but virtually unknown Nick Drake (during his lifetime). This was short, but appropriatly so, and interviews with Drake's sister shed light on his early demise.

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****½ felipe d
June 19, 2007
Genious! But it could a couple of hours longer...

NickDrakeFilm.com