There’s a good chance you may not have heard of St Thomas – if you have, you know your alt-country very well. But this closed-book Norwegian musician, otherwise known as Thomas Hansen, has produced the most beautiful contemporary music but tragically died in 2007 aged 31.
After discovering this sad news, director Richard Knights grabbed his producer buddy Gary Reynolds and set themselves an experiment: to find out what Thomas Hansen actually was like, through his debilitating anxiety and escalating rise to stardom throughout the noughties. Knights and Reynolds had a very low budget of £6,000, funded mainly from Kickstarter and support from the Norwegian Council For Mental Health.
What’s been put together over several years is a moving feature-length documentary interviewing Hansen’s family and friends, Lambchop and Howe Gelb, footage of Hansen, alongside a beautifully filmed backdrop of Norway. It was initially meant to be a short documentary; it ended being 1 hour 55 minutes long as the public finally gets to meet a profoundly honest musician.
St Thomas’ music was the soundtrack to the documentary, which narrated Hansen’s life as it unfolded, the lyrics were so articulate and true to life, “great artists often explore the places others fear to examine so that we don’t have to”, says Wyndham Wallace, from City Slang Records, in Hansens’ obituary.
“We didn’t seek a pop psychology answer”, Knights responds on depicting Hansen’s mental health and downfalls, as well as equal uprisings. He was a man who was at the mercy of his very own fears, catalysed by unwanted attention from press, but produced music on par with Neil Young.
Hansen didn’t even know who Neil Young was until people told him. The film shows how Hansen loathed fame and the false glamour that’s glued to it. This man was too scared as a child to hold his hand up in class, with acute fears continuing throughout life, but he was never afraid to be so honest about his emotions.
The tragedy is that Hansen was coping better, but the medication he sought from far and wide was too much for him and he sadly died from an accidental overdose of prescribed medication on his own in his apartment in Norway. This documentary serves as a really important education on mental health; we can see in this documentary how Hansen was so articulate about his emotions through his lyrics, as well as talking on stage. There’s one piece of footage where he stands on stage at the Royal Albert Hall and openly announces how he has anxiety and anger troubles.
During the Q&A, the directors explain that they never found out who Hansen truly was, which is a close as we can all get. The lyrics in his songs illustrate so much, e.g. “Come take my hand/I dare not see/ With my eye/ As long as I walk with you/ I think I can be safe” (‘Walk With Me’). The documentary could’ve shown more insight into his childhood and exploring why he was so anxious. However, the directors made a choice to edit this out, otherwise it would’ve been too long. Hopefully though these can be released as extra features.
This film should be seen by all, from those affected directly and indirectly by mental illness, those who love to unearth genuinely good music, as well beautiful cinematography. This film bears witness into how exhausting it is to be touring on the road for months on end, away from home, sleep-deprived and fuelled by alcohol and constant publicity by the press, very little time to take care of yourself.
Since the rise of the digital age, Hansen has been hushed away from the glaring limelight even more, something Hansen would have undoubtedly wanted. Perhaps with this documentary, Hansen’s profound musings can be reignited again.
“Run for your life, never turn around, take your thoughts and put them on the fire, burn the place you hide” (Silence Break Your Heart).
You can help support the making of this documentary on the Kickstarter page: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1979068358/burn-the-place-you-hide-a-documentary-on-st-thomas
The film is ready for pre-order here: http://www.burntheplaceyouhide.com/
Doc n Roll Film Festival hosted over 2 weeks of exclusive premiers of the newest music documentaries across the UK. ‘Burn The Place You Hide’ was screened at Picturehouse Central in London on 13th November 2016.