September 10, 2016

Grief


One More Time With Feeling (Andrew Dominik, 2016). When I reviewed the Nick Cave documentary 20,000 Days on Earth two years ago, at Twitter-length, I called it “a portrait of the artist as a disciplined professional” in which “Nick Cave makes a fortress out of his Nick Cave-ness”. For me, that film gave audiences the illusion of intimacy and proximity while Cave stayed behind the image he has constructed. But then, why shouldn’t he? It didn’t help that Push the Sky Away, the album the film coincided with, sounded like the work of a songwriter who didn’t have much he really needed to say, who looked and sounded settled. Hence that word “professional”. Cave in the 1980s was anything but that.
I haven’t revisited the film but Push the Sky Away has grown on me a little. The follow-up, Skeleton Tree, is similar sonically, but more minimal and sketchy, simpler overall, with a sadder and more haunted feeling. That sense of it being haunted is inescapable as the unbearable event (the “trauma”) that hangs over it is the sudden, accidental death of Cave’s son. One More Time With Feeling is the documentary that accompanies the record and the title does several things, besides being a lyric in one of the songs – it implies that this unofficial sequel to 20,000 Days is the more emotional restaging of that earlier, artificial film, and it also alludes to its own production as an observational verite documentary in which the spirit is somehow Dont Look Back as if remade by Terrence Malick. We are in the midst of a band’s process but we are also within Cave’s consciousness, relayed to us by searching, sometimes poetic, emotionally open voice-overs. It is about grief and privacy and love, and it poses questions about whether art can help you make sense of trauma or whether it’s merely a passing distraction. There is an honesty and vulnerability that Cave was reluctant to show us in 20,000 Days – this Cave is someone you warm to and feel for and the use of 3D, far from being a gimmick, increases a sense of intimacy with the subjects. It makes our viewing more individual. You are closer to them – Cave and his wife Susie and his closest collaborator Warren Ellis – and further away from the people you are sitting with in your shared (global, really) experience of communing with a private singer about a very private event. The effect is utterly absorbing.