Nick Cave has always had a close relationship with the movies. Between acting (“Ghosts Of The Civil Dead”, ), scriptwriting (“The Proposition”), band movies and soundtracks, the visual and the sonic have always meshed together. Allied to the cinematic aspect of much of Cave’s music, this peaked with “20,000 Years On Earth” in 2014. Now he’s back but the reasons are tragically pragmatic as much as they are artistic.
Most of the readers will recall the awful event that preceded “One More Time With Feeling.” One of Cave’s 15 year old twin sons, Arthur, died after falling off of a cliff near their home in Brighton.
To bury one’s child is something that is beyond contemplation for parents. To bury a twin must be devastating for the remaining child.
So whilst it is pretty extraordinary that Cave is looking to release new music so soon after Arthur’s death, it is understandable that he wouldn’t want to revisit the traumatic events in endless promotional press junkets. Hence the film is being used to accompany and explain the new LP “Skeleton Tree”.
“20,000 Days” was a fictional account of a day in Cave’s life combined with the making of the last “Push The Sky Away” and Cave driving his Jaguar around the south coast with Kylie Minogue and Ray Winston in the back seat. It even featured Arthur and Earl eating pizza with their father, whilst watching “Scarface”.
“One More Time” is a difficult but not impossible watch. Filmed in black and white except for one particular song, it consists of a mixture of interviews (set in a moving vehicle again on many occasions), footage with voiceovers and performances. If anyone is looking for a timeline account of the period then they will be disappointed. As Cave mentions, life doesn’t have a narrative arc by default. People live and then some people die and others remain living.
There are a number of recurring themes, Of course, dealing with loss, ageing and mortality crop up. What is clear is the strength of key relationships in Cave’s life – with his wife Susie, with Arthur’s brother Earl and with Warren Ellis of the Bad Seeds. At one point, Cave asks “what would I do without Warren”. Ellis is a constant reassuring presence, a gentle cheerleader offering encouragement. The bond between them that was evident in “20,000 Days” has strengthened. He’s evidently taken over from Mick Harvey as Cave’s key collaborator.
There are some lovely domestic scenes. Cave accuses Susie of always moving the furniture around. Susie explains a picture of Arthur’s painted when he was 5 that they love. Earl and Susie hang out in the studio with Nick. Cave seems happiest in the studio, his recent 9-5 work ethic shining through.
The music is of a kind with “The Boatman’s Call” and “No More Shall We Part”. Gone is the thrusting priapic rock of the Grinderman albums and “Dig Lazarus Dig”. Many of the tracks reminded me of David Sylvian’s “Manafon”, a voice, an electronic improvised treatment and not a lot else. It is spare but it is also high quality.
If anyone is looking for weeping and wailing, some form of Princess Diana like grief porn, then move along. I’ve suffered a fair amount of deaths to close family members in recent years myself, although nothing that can compare to what the Cave family have gone through. What I liked was Cave’s refusal to distill his loss down into platitudes. There are no tiresome Facebook memes that will help him deal with what happened. Inspirational words cut and pasted won’t reverse his son’s death. This resonated with me. Kindness is hard to bear for him, particularly from strangers.
In the end, life goes on and then it doesn’t. The time of Arthur’s death remains raw but the family are moving on beyond that. Old certainties are tested. Some remain – the Bad Seeds eventually come together and perform as a unit towards the end of the film and the shifting momentum drives the movie to a conclusion. But look in the mirror and Cave doesn’t recognise himself, externally with bags under his eyes and internally battling with his inability to rationalise what the world throws at him.
In a few scenes, Cave is sat at a table with a copy of David Tibet’s “Moons At Your Door“.
It is a compendium of strange and hallucinatory tales. Cave is still searching in new places for answers. Long may he continue.