Nick Cave’s ‘One More Time With Feeling’ Reviewed
We all experience pain and profound distress, most of us sum it up with a platitude, most of us reduce the chaos into a greeting card line, as Nick Cave says in the movie… ‘He lives in my heart’… ‘Yes, he is in my heart, but he doesn’t live,’ he adds. And while most of us go for the platitude, there is Nick Cave, a man struggling with the absurd, trying to make sense of the horror and refusing the platitude.
I attended a screening of ‘One More Time With Feeling’ at the American Cinematheque last night, I met Nick Cave twice at this place so I thought it was the appropriate venue to see this very personal work, however, the emotion loading each frame of the film was most of the time overwhelming.
The movie is a long poem written by a broken man, a fucked up man, vomiting in the sink, washed away by a profound pain, who is afraid to have lost his voice, his iPhone, his memory, ‘Lost things have so much weight, so much mass, as big as the universe’ he says, wondering what has happened to his face when he looks at the bathroom mirror. He doesn’t have a handle on things anymore, ‘I don’t know what I am doing now,’ he says during one of these vignette interviews spread throughout the movie. He is a wreck, helpless, and we are heartbroken to realize that even great artists like him cannot make sense of an absurd death. However, if he first tiptoes around the death of his son, he gradually faces the subject with a rare and brave defiance.
Nick Cave lost his son Arthur about 6 months before making ‘One More Time With Feeling’, he was half way through the recording of his new and 16th album with the Bad Seeds, and he became physically sick at the idea of promoting the record in this context. Thus, the movie became a way to promote the record, as director Andrew Dominik explained after the screening. It was not clear whether Cave really wanted to talk about the death of his son, but he and Dominik both knew they had to deal with it.
But, ‘One More Time With Feeling’ doesn’t feel like a promotional vehicle at all. It’s a collection of intimate, raw and honest moments, making large room for the music, which is one of the reasons why it was filmed in 3D. It could have come as a distraction but it rather enhanced the experience, fitting the spatiality of the songs. Furthermore, during one of his several spoken words – there are many of them and I would give a lot to hear again the poem referencing Steve McQueen – Cave mentions women being 3D and men being 2D, which obviously brought me back to the concept of the movie.
The film shares its time between the making of ‘Skeleton Tree’ and Cave’s interviews, ruminations and spoken words about loss, life and death. We see Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds recording the songs and especially Warren Ellis, Cave’s close friend, ‘holding everything together’. Cave talks in an essentially abstract sense during the first half of the movie, ‘I don’t believe in the narrative anymore,… that’s not what life is like’… ‘life is not a story’, almost avoiding the central subject of the album, ‘the past, the present and the future are happening now,’ he continues while describing the time as elastic. However, you see him smile, and even joking with Ellis during the recording sessions or between each profound thought, and each time you want to hug him for that act of courage.
Soon after he comes up with the tirade we had already heard during the trailer, we get closer to the tragedy. ‘Most of us don’t want to change really. But what happens when an event occurs that is so catastrophic that you just change? You change from a known person to an unknown person. So that when you look at yourself in the mirror, you recognize the person that you were, but the person inside the skin is a different person.’
Nick Cave can describe trauma with a scientific precision mixed with a poetic and emotional elegance. If he had to renegotiate his place in the world – ‘when did I become an object of pity?’ – he also explains there is a rubber band attached to trauma, which forces you to keep coming back to it, and makes the artist’s task a real struggle. ‘Trauma is extremely dangerous to the creative process,’ he says at one point. ‘Imagination needs room to breathe, and when a trauma happens, there’s just no room to breathe’, he says as if he was admitting a temporary artistic failure.
His wife Susie progressively reveals herself through the movie, first camera-shy and appearing as an object of mystery, she is Cave’s devastated companion, going to the cliff where their son died – ‘she goes there a lot’ said Dominik, ‘Nick never goes to the cliff’ – even visiting the band with their son Earl during a recording session. She talks about getting her mind occupied with her fashion designer job, and she painfully excavates a painting done by Arthur when he was 6, which had been framed with black, ‘It bothers me it was framed in black,’ she says. Susie is very superstitious and she also mentions the prophetic nature of her husband’s songs, but Cave doesn’t care for that, as he later mentions the delusion of any artist who believes he is making something of great significance and permanence. ‘I know this album has none of that.’ He is wrong of course, but he has never been so unsure and vulnerable, becoming the opposite of his stage character. If almost all his songs had this heroic aspect of confronting death, there is no prophetic or non-prophetic muse at work for the new ones, he is forced to confront reality and the result is heartbreaking.
He mentions being moved by people’s concern, crying in the arms of a stranger in the streets but he also sings that ‘the urge to kill somebody was basically overwhelming’… ‘Remember to be kind’, he also repeats several times. He is a lost man who bravely finds his strength back thanks to his art and his family, ‘There is more paradise in hell than we have been told’, he also repeats. And if grief can be devastating for a couple, there is this bright light leading us when the camera plunges down a dark staircase, and Nick saying toward the end of the movie, ‘We choose happiness, happiness as an act of revenge and defiance’. Probably the most uplifting line in this exploration of grief and helplessness, something you probably want to frame and put in every room of your house.