Andrew Dominik/ UK Australia/ 2016/ 112 mins
In cinemas nationwide Thu 9 – Fri 10 Sep 2016
Few artists cross the seemingly insurmountable boundaries between music, film and literature with such grace and ease as Nick Cave. Following the death of his fifteen year-old son Arthur in 2015, One More Time With Feeling combines documentary footage and the performance of Cave’s new album Skeleton Tree skilfully to convey the effects of grief and trauma; not only in Cave himself, but also his family and musical collaborators.
Unlike Cave’s previous venture into film, 20,000 Days On Earth, there is a raw and fractured feel to his words. He is not a man caught up in his narrative worlds but looking both inwards and outwards at once. This self-conscious examination is clear both in the lyrics of his songs and the candid moments between the band members. The sweeping dramatics of the music are only heightened and made more effective by the tender moments of vulnerability, such as Cave hugging his son Earl, or asking long time band member Warren Ellis how his hair is; and the discomfort and pain of the trauma in his life is elegantly portrayed through anxiety about lost pens or forgotten chords.
One man’s loss becomes a mosaic of songs, poems and moments that are intensely personal and unique but wholly recognizable. A situation that could alienate an audience instead draws them in as a musician known for his narrative songs strips away the stories and lyrical genius to expose ad-libbed, partial words and lines. Cave comments on his own personal process as well as huge philosophical questions about time, grief and love in the same breath, beautifully capturing his intelligence and confusion. The shaky, vulnerable vocals of ‘I Need You’ and ‘Girl In Amber’ are like nothing Cave has done before, and with the synth and violin effects on the album there’s a real sense of musical experimentation and release. As Cave states himself he has “let go” of his search for perfection in lyrics and instead released raw and improvised lines that evoke the displacement and alienation experienced after loss.
The specific songs are largely irretrievable from the film, with ‘Jesus Alone‘ being the most memorable as the opening song and first single released on the album, but this only inspires the need for further listens and explorations and is by no means a failure. In fact the blending of the songs into a cohesive narrative is skilfully achieved through the dynamic camerawork.
The decision to film in black and white could be pretentious, and the 3D indulgent, but these notions are forgotten after it is gently mocked by Cave; and the camera along with the audience focuses and relaxes into the film. The cinematography is breathtaking at times, spiralling down stair cases and gliding through rooms in a staggering mastery of technology and editing. The visuals are not always entirely smooth, sometimes even coming across as jarring with the camera being dropped and Warren Ellis appearing out of focus with the footage being called “unusable”. However, these moments are expertly blended with a black screen highlighting the solemn and stern statements of Cave’s long-time band member, and punctuate Cave’s musings on there being no accidents. The anxieties and boredom of recording and filming are expressed extensively which only serves to draw the spectator further into the strange world of the musicians.
The studio is the predominant venue but not the only setting, with the beach, taxi journeys and most captivatingly, Cave’s home being featured. Cave’s wife Susie Bick is interviewed and filmed both formally, simply working or walking around the house. This blend of public and private humanises a situation and artist that can at times seem to be mysterious or even distant. Cave’s son and wife add a charm and humanity and each of the camera and sound crew are accounted for in a series of close ups that sum up all that is wonderful about the film. It is frank yet poetic and, above all, a unique and moving experience, that goes above and beyond a single narrative to comment on filmmaking, the recording music, and humanity as a whole.