Sitting in the Cameo cinema as the credits rolled after witnessing a documentary entrenched with beauty, devastation and complexity, I looked around me to see an audience floored with emotion. One More Time With Feeling, the new documentary about Nick Cave and the recording of seminal album Skeleton Tree, is a timely screening alongside the release of this newest album, exposing intimacies of the musician’s life that the audience never would have anticipated.
Originally a performance-based concept, One More Time With Feeling developed into something much more noteworthy as director Andrew Dominik delved into the traumatic origin of the album. Interwoven throughout the Bad Seeds’ filmed performance of the new album are interviews and footage shot by Dominik, accompanied by Cave’s sporadic narration and improvised ponderings.
Stark and interrogatory, intrusive in camera style, Dominik unearths the feelings of a man who is renowned in the music industry as the “Prince of Darkness,” and Cave makes it obvious throughout the black-and-white feature that he is far from totally comfortable with the camera’s presence. Undeniably a reflective work about the loss of his son, Arthur Cave, who fell to his unfortunate death last July aged 15, Dominik enables Cave as well as his wife, Susie Bick, to reveal their trauma and suffering, both through body language and rumination. As he discusses his inability to create narrative records anymore, the audience gain a piercing insight into Cave’s anguish.
The filmmaker previously worked with Cave whilst directing The Assassination of Jesse James, for which Cave composed the score. This is evidently an altogether more difficult piece for Dominik, who has been given a wide berth with the structure and narrative. He still however seizes the reins with the stunning cinematography, as we are subjected to graceful tracking and panning black and white footage.
Dominik elaborated on working with Cave, “When Nick approached me about making a film around the recording and performing of the new Bad Seeds album, I’d been seeing quite a lot of him as we rallied around him and his family at the time of his son’s death. My immediate response was “Why do you want to do this?” Nick told me that he had some things he needed to say, but he didn’t know who to say them to. The idea of a traditional interview, he said, was simply infeasible but that he felt a need to let the people who cared about his music understand the basic state of things. It seemed to me that he was trapped somewhere and just needed to do something.”
Surrounding and also scoring this captivating film is the new album by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Skeleton Tree, poignant, reflective and evocative in lyrical content and sound. Standout tracks Anthrocene, a discordant collage of angst, Girl in Amber, a haunting concoction of piano, synth and choral backing vocals and I Need You, a heart-rending song of despair yet with elements of embellished hope, alluringly grab the emotions in the cinema. The score and performances are important in this documentary, possibly more so than Cave’s dark reflections, indicating that there is a sense of moving forward. It allows the audience to come up for air from the trauma, which he holds so tightly.
A stunning film, a evocatively delicate score and a lingeringly painful story, Dominik’s exploratory work leaves you optimistically antagonised, and humble in the face of its beauty.
Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds’ sixteenth studio album, Skeleton Tree, was released globally on vinyl, CD and across all digital platforms on 9th September 2016. The album began its journey in late 2014 at Retreat Studios, Brighton, with further sessions at La Frette Studios, France in autumn 2015. The album was mixed at AIR Studios, London in early 2016.