Mary Lucia: an intimate and emotional portrait of Nick Cave

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Nick Cave in 'One More Time With Feeling'
Nick Cave during the filming of 'One More Time With Feeling.' (Kerry Brown)

When I took in the one-night-only screening of the documentary One More Time With Feeling at the Lagoon Cinema, it is necessary to describe the tone before the film started: It felt like everyone in attendance knew at least half the people gathered there that night. We are all Nick Cave's loyal admirers, a not-so-secret club. There was friendly chatter across aisles with loud laughter. But we would all soon be silenced into a stupor that I couldn't have anticipated.

Andrew Dominik's intimate following of Nick Cave in and out of the studio as Cave lays down the tracks for his gorgeous new album, Skeleton Tree, is intensely personal and shot so beautifully in black and white — which is perfect, as I think of Nick Cave's music in only black and white. Cave commissioned the film himself, with the intention for it to be his only public statement to support the release of this latest album.

In July of 2015 — before Cave and his band recorded Skeleton Tree — Cave's 15-year-old son, Arthur, died falling off a cliff in Brighton. Naturally, it would be unimaginable for Cave to do the usual rounds of promotion with the press and not be asked the same wrenching questions over and over. Instead, Cave enlisted the help of a friend and collaborator to attempt to form an honest reflection of grief and improvisation; that is exactly what Andrew Dominik did.

The first hour or so of the film is spent in the studio, in taxis and in Nick Cave's home. Bill Deville and I decided that all of Cave's clothes must be tailor made, as the fit of all of his shirts and jackets are flawless. I love the fact that Cave carries a comb and asks several times if his hair looks all right, which seems to be an inside joke among his band members.

The look of this film is so singular in perspective. No one mentions the tragedy, but it is certainly suggested cinematically. A technique of using Cave's voiceover while someone else is speaking on camera forces the audience to choose who to listen to, putting us inside Nick's head as he struggles with which voice to listen to. Often times throughout the film, scenes are shot with shallow focus, a blurry background zeroing in on the singer's face. And what a face it is. A battered monument.

Finally, Cave mentions "the trauma" and how it has damaged the creative process for him as an artist. I don't doubt for a second that he really feels that way, but for those of us on the outside, he has never been more of a pure poet: Describing how it feels to be an object of pity and the fear that he has lost his voice; how the world changes after tragedy, but then questioning, "Maybe it's just me who has changed." This Father's torture is obvious. Often the musings of Cave appear to be of him thinking out loud, trying to unravel the unanswerable. How do you sing along to something when you have no idea where it's going?

Known for his powerful use of lyrical language, we're taken inside of the assembly of a song, capturing a dream of anxiety. I've always thought of Nick Cave as the Edgar Allen Poe of modern music. Words. Words. I was scribbling like a maniac in the dark in a notebook, my hand moving as if across a Ouija board. When I got home that night, I saw that I had written the words: Love. Fear. Devil. Blood. God.

Once the subject of Arthur's loss is addressed directly, it stays there, hanging heavily in the room. Cave likens his grief to elastic: You move further away from the pain but end up rudely snapped back to the same place. He also talks about the importance of being able to write a song that doesn't alienate but connects, and how to do that when you yourself are suddenly an unknown and disconnected person. The importance of deciding to be happy out of defiance.

Ultimately, the intimacy of this film seems to embarrass Cave. Asked if Arthur lives in his heart he responds, "No. He's in my heart, but he doesn't live."

Resources

Nick Cave: One More Time With Feeling - official site

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