Synopsis: Explores the creative process of Nick Cave and his band as the singer struggles an unspoken personal tragedy. (Source)
In 20,000 Days on Earth, directors Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard showed us Nick Cave the artist, storyteller and enigma. It was an inventive mix of tall tales and truth, finding the singer and his world in a space that existed somewhere between dreams and reality. One More Time with Feeling, this time helmed by Andrew Dominik, finds the singer at a new place in life, both professionally and personally, struggling with tragedy while attempting to channel that desperation and grief into art. Evolving from an abstract performance piece, the film is an utterly raw experience, one fraught with labyrinthian devastation, but also an unexpected layer of hope. The final result is a monument to deep loss but also a celebration of what’s left – be it the pain that transforms into art or the family and friends who remain by our side. Whether you come at the film as a fan or casual onlooker, there’s an immense amount of beauty to parse, cementing Cave and company as true artists using any way they can to make sense of this unforgiving life.
The film picks up with Cave stalwart Warren Ellis reflecting, or rather refusing to disclose intimate details on the death of Cave’s late teenage son, Arthur. While the 3D cameras trained on him fail to calibrate, the picture goes dark and we hear him express, through audio, the importance of keeping such personal things private. He’s not wrong of course, and therein is our entry way to Dominik’s fierce portrait of creativity and misfortune. Dominik understands that he’s entered these people’s lives at an inexplicable time, but rather than back away, he’s chosen to highlight their resilience, their courage to stare in the face of horror and keep each other going. Dominik follows Cave and friends as they fall back on one other and spill their souls into art, most specifically the creation of Cave and the Bad Seeds’ latest album, Skeleton Tree. As they pick up the pieces of their fractured lives, the film plays out like the album that accompanies it – it’s a moody, improvisational work of art that distills the passion on display to its very core.
Though the film is anchored by a handful of musical performances, each one sprinkled throughout and pushing the 3D photography to its immersive limits, the most fascinating aspect is how it feels culled from candid moments which, in any other documentary, would’ve been left on the cutting room floor. From the camera gaffes, to Cave struggling to figure out chord progressions (amidst questioning his own relevance) to the crew coercing Cave for another forced take, there’s a sincerity to the entire thing that shows how no mundane action is meaningless. Dominik keeps everything out in the open, never hiding the other cameras filming side-by-side (or the numerous cables and tracks keeping them at bay) and capturing the cast when they least expect, always highlighting the truth within the illusion that he’s creating. These candid moments of levity seem inconsequential in the moment, but eventually, subscribe to Cave’s theory that life is but a series of fractured, meaningless events piled on top of one another. Cave’s seemingly fatalistic views are eventually contrasted by his own voice-overs, which contrast with sobering new perspectives. It’s here we realize the poetry of Dominik’s black-and-white tapestry, blending performance art with moments of daily vulnerability to display how beauty refuses to dissipate within our lives, even if we’re constantly tethered to unspeakable trauma.
“There’s more paradise in hell than we were told”, says Cave as the camera lingers on a photo of him and wife Susie Bick. It’s a transcendent moment towards the film’s second half which takes on a bravely defiant slant. Though the film is built around unsaid tragedy, it’s these glimmers of hope that pierce the veil and leave a mark. It’s impossible to not get choked up when Cave completely lights up at the sight of his son Earl and Susie visiting the film shoot, or when Cave admits during a solemn voiceover, that best friend, Warren Ellis, is the one keeping everything together. These moments shake and stir within us, proof that sometimes, even if for a second, that beauty can make us forget about the darkness surrounding us on all sides. What Dominik, Cave and company have given us here is truly special, and possibly one of the most artistic, transparent views of loss and catharsis ever put to film. One More Time with Feeling shows us how easy it can be to get lost, but that we’re also never alone.