9 Sep 2016

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds: One more time with feeling

Human frailty can be at once wondrously appealing in its vulnerability and a terrible reminder of how tenuous our grasp is on life. This heartbreaking film, One More Time With Feeling, examines these facets in close-up, sometimes to the point where the viewer feels they are wholly violating the sanctity and privacy of the grieving process.

Of course I am speaking of the grieving process Nick Cave, his wife Susie, son Earl, and everyone close to them, were hurled into since the death of his son Arthur last year.

Nick describes Arthur's death as a moment in time they are bound to like an elastic band; life goes on, and everything seems okay, until they are once again snapped back to that moment to relive fears and sadness we can only imagine...

Amidst the darkness of this period in their lives, Nick still displays his very solid sense of humour and self deprecation, wondering how those bags appeared under his eyes, and asking friend and Bad Seeds musician Warren Ellis if his hair looks okay during filming. In the film, he also interrogates himself, visibly shaken to the core by the loss of his son, about when he became the object of pity. About the realisation that only tragedy can create around one's assessment of friendships and their authenticity. He says that his previous songwriting narrative style doesn't make sense to him during this time, when it seems almost ridiculous that a story would have such a predetermined journey as a beginning and an end. That the trauma of Arthur's death has created a void in which creativity is almost impossible.

The film, beautifully directed by Andrew Dominik, launched the new Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds album Skeleton Tree. The viewing tonight was the first opportunity anyone had to hear songs from the album, with the film being shown in more than 650 cinemas worldwide for one night only. I feel privileged to have experienced this, as I feel it was much more than an album debut.

The songs in the film were brutally beautiful, sometimes imperfect, but more evocative for that sense of being right for a point in time. Nick admits he should've warmed up his voice before recording, while we're watching him sing, and it's this voiceover narrative by him during the film that sometimes provides laughter and other times depth and background. The lyrics are plaintive and raw, which Ellis' gorgeous layers of soaring strings and effects wraps in a warm, bearded hug.

There are many moments in this film when your heart just starts to bleed for Nick and his family, but I don't want to become one of those who pity him with kindness in my eyes. Instead, I note the resilience of his wife Susie by throwing herself into designing beautiful, ethereal clothes when her heart has been broken. The enthusiasm and love displayed by their son Earl, a gorgeous boy with youth and promise in every essence of his being. The brutal honesty and tenacity of Nick opening up his deepest thoughts about such a personal experience, and sharing how this has impacted him and his music. When Susie started to speak about the painting she found that Arthur did when he was a small child, and questioning why it was framed in black, it only touched on the kind of superstitious and dark thoughts people have when someone close to them has died. The self-analysis, the questioning, the doubt.

The film ends with each person involved in the film being in the spotlight against a wall for a moment, capturing their faces in a raw and truthful manner. Finally, the spotlight is on Nick, Susie, Earl, then...an empty wall where you get the feeling Arthur should be standing. As the sounds of Arthur and Earl singing and playing piano rose through the credits, I smiled, a tear in my eye, knowing this family will make it through to the other side of this time. Because, well, you just have to, don't you.

Tonight was an incredible experience, made me love Nick Cave even more than I did already, and was the most ingenious method of avoiding invasive journalistic engagement I have ever come across. Kudos, Mr Cave.