It should have been the kind of moment film festivals are made for: one of Canada’s biggest rock stars standing in front of a sold-out crowd at an Toronto opera house and welcoming them to the premiere of a glowing documentary about her landmark album Jagged Little Pill. But instead, Alanis Morissette spent the afternoon before the premiere at this year’s Toronto Film Festival throwing the film and accusing director Alison Klayman of betraying her confidence.
News that Morissette may not have participated in the screening leaked over the weekend, followed by a statement on Tuesday confirming the rumor. She presented the reason behind her decision to skip over clearly: “I was lulled into a false sense of security, and their mischievous agenda became apparent immediately after I saw the film’s first cut,” Morissette said. “That was not the story I agreed to tell.” She continued to accuse Jagged to include “implications and facts that are simply not true”, although it did not specify what those implications are.
Klayman, for his part, has remained diplomatic and may have hoped to lure his subject back into the fold before Jagged‘s HBO debut on November 19th. At the premiere, the director introduced himself as a lifelong fan whose first CD ever was Jagged Little Pill, and described making the film as “a total honor and privilege.” Instead of allowing questions after the screening, the festival organizers directed participants to a pre-recorded Q&A on the festival’s website.
Neither Morissette nor Klayman have indicated which specific parts of Jagged the singer considers controversial, but media coverage has focused on the star’s comments about the men who made sexual advances against her early in her career, beginning as early as her mid-teens. “At 15,” she says early in the film, “all bets were off.” She goes on to describe how, in the course of pre-Jagged Little Pill when she submitted a bid for teen pop star status in Canada, she was immersed in an environment where there was “an element of lack of hyperprotection”. When she was as young as 10, Morissette says in the film, her parents would stab her on a plane and ask the adult in the next seat to keep an eye on her; as a teenager she would often stay in the studio with her male producer until 3 in the morning. When she was left alone with a man, Morissette says, there often came a moment when she felt that “the camera would go Dutch angle” – that is, tilting uncomfortably to one side – and she knew what would then Spoon.
Later in the film, the singer becomes more explicit about these traumas, after saying to Klayman, “I need help because I never talk about this shit.” Although she does not name names or describe specific meetings, Morissette says that after “years in therapy” she has come to the conclusion that many meetings she had long told herself were consensual were not. “Now I’m like, ‘Oh yeah, they’re all pedophiles. It’s all statutory rape. ‘”
Despite presumably going on record with all of these stories for the film, Morissette has since accused Klayman of exploiting her in “a very vulnerable time (while I was in the middle of my third postpartum depression during lockdown).” But the only time she visibly brushes on the camera is when the director raises the subject of the all-male band that toured behind her for 18 months and supported Jagged Little Pill. Morissette describes his band, which included current Foo Fighters drummer Taylor Hawkins, as a surrogate family that mostly bonded with each other when it was clear none of them would be romantically involved. But she was clearly furious when she found out that the band typically reserved a room on the other side of the room to have sex with its female fans. (The musicians now seem properly chagrinned, with bassist Chris Chaney admitting in the document that they were all “villains seeking to be laid.”) And the singer seems particularly outraged at the suggestion that some of them might have their hair on not get to share her spotlight – even if the question is raised in such a way that it is not clear whether she is talking about a specific member of the touring band or another – or any number of angry men in general. It would be a stretch to call this part of the film “saleful,” but that’s the passage when it seems most uncomfortable, as Klayman tries to discuss an idea she doesn’t quite have the footage to document.
Celebrity documentaries are often dominated by their subjects, and music documentaries perhaps most of all; keeping the copyright to their songs effectively gives them the final cut. (It may strengthen Klayman’s hand, as HBO, which produced Jagged, has the same business parent as Warner Bros., who owns Jagged Little Pill.) And in Jagged in itself, the question of Morissette’s control over her own image is never far from the discussion; she once scrapped a whole Rolling stones cover shoot after the fact because she was unhappy with the wardrobe, and then made the pictures again in her streetwear. Klayman, whose last film, The Brink, was a judgmental portrait with full access to Steve Bannon, is not the kind of filmmaker who relinquishes creative control, and it is Morissette’s honor that she allowed it — right down to one last cut, she is now vocally dissatisfied with. And it is to Klayman’s honor that even though she approached an artist she has honored since childhood, she stands firm.