Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - One More Time With Feeling

by Jon Burke Rating: Release Date:

A Passion Play is a moment trapped in amber; a document of unparalleled suffering and cosmic injustice. A good man gathers with his friends, is wrongly accused, beset by an angry mob, beaten and publicly executed. The play has been reproduced countless times since the thirteenth century, symbolically killing Christ again and again and again. Of course the unspoken luxury of a Passion Play is the symbolism – the reenactment being painless in comparison to the actual suffering it seeks to portray. There is a morbid curiosity within viewers of these atrocity exhibitions and, to some degree, they are complicit in the suffering. In much the same way, audience complicity lies at the heart of the new Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds documentary, One More Time With Feeling.

In July of 2015, Cave’s son, Arthur, died from an unexpected fall. Because of Cave’s notoriety the loss became a minor media spectacle. Cave authorized the filming of the documentary as a way to ensure completion of his then partially-recorded album, The Skeleton Tree. The film also served as a means of deflecting public scrutiny and protecting his family during their grieving process. Cave felt One More Time With Feeling director, Andrew Dominik, had the appropriate levels of intimacy, empathy and honestly to respectfully capture the moment while offering Cave and his wife, Susie Bick, an opportunity to discuss and mourn their son. In addition to Cave and Bick, the film features interviews with Arthur’s twin, Earl, as well as members of The Bad Seeds. Warren Ellis in particular seems to speak for the band, Cave’s friends, family and fans at several points throughout the film. Ellis offers his steadfast devotion to Cave despite his own helpless despair in watching loved ones suffering.

The film itself was shot in stark black & white and partially in 3-D – the camera drifting in circles around the musicians, through studio walls and even out into the depths of space. Peppered between talking head interviews are what amount to studio-based music videos of certain songs from the album. Though mostly minimal, at times, Dominik’s film is reminiscent of Ridley Scott at his most noir; replete with strobing lights and a futuristic set made-up of windows, wires and glowing control panels. The Scott comparison is most evident in the video for “Magneto” – which at times resembles a paparazzi rope line and others a vicious alien nightmare. What is most fascinating about One More Time With Feeling however is not its striking visuals, nor its candid interviews. What makes One More Time With Feeling a great documentary is its self-awareness.

His legendary contempt for the media having only grown in the days following Arthur’s death, Cave refused to do interviews. At the same time Cave saw the need for a public statement of some kind about the tragedy. One More Time With Feeling offered Cave that chance so long as the film remained true to his own moral code and steered clear of exploitation. Dominik strikes this balance by including a number of outtakes in the film, even going so far as to open One More Time With Feeling with a botched take of Cave getting ready for his day. After dressing in his bedroom on camera Dominik can be heard asking Cave to start the process all over, to the point of disrobing, in order to ensure the best take is available – a request Cave rightfully questions. In One More Time With Feeling it’s hard to know what is staged and what is spontaneous. By immediately pointing out the deceptive nature of documentary film, Dominik admits to viewers that, while much of what they are watching is real, there is also some artifice at play. This admission leads to a unique level of trust between artist and audience and in later interviews, when Cave and Bick’s very real grief pours out, the weight of their loss quickly subsumes everything. As a document of grief One More Time With Feeling is so real at times as to be almost unbearable.

Though not a film for everyone due to its heavy tone, and somber soundtrack, One More Time With Feeling has some incredible moments of serenity. Though levity is the wrong descriptor, the video for “Distant Sky” is arguably one of the most beautiful cinematic moments in recent memory. Cave’s lyrics of despair and betrayal are paired with a verse from Danish soprano, Else Torp, whose heavenly voice reminds Cave he’s not alone in his grief and that together they can make their way toward something better. “Distant Sky” is the only portion of One More Time With Feeling shot in color and though Cave tucked behind his piano is bathed in darkness, Torp’s verse ushers in a golden illumination. The warm light revealing first her beautiful face and eventually radiating so brightly that she becomes dawn itself, lighting-up the Earth. The whole spectacle in the context of Cave’s loss is deeply moving and shows Dominik’s talent goes far beyond being able to edit together an interesting interview.

Toward the end of the film Bick and Cave are seated at a table and unveil a framed picture that their son Arthur drew of a field and a windmill at age five. The horrible irony being that the location he drew would later be the place of his death. In the scene Bick is standing, holding-up the black-framed image for the camera. She is clearly struggling to speak and then finally acknowledges for the first time in the film, “Arthur died”. Cave, seated, rubs his eyes and is clearly at a loss for words. After Susie finishes, Cave gently takes the painting from her and tries to find a place to put it. Nothing seems to be appropriate – it shouldn’t be flat on the table, it can’t sit safely on a chair and it’s too cumbersome to be held comfortably. Cave finally props it against a chair, mostly off-camera, though the top of the picture frame remains visible. What becomes clear in One More Time With Feeling is that Arthur’s life and death will always be present for Nick and Susie – sometimes front and center, other times just peeking-in from the background but never gone, never easy to cope with and always fraught with emotion.

One More Time With Feeling is a public document of private suffering created to allow space for the grieving to properly mourn. The film ultimately asks its audience to consider their role in events unfolding on-screen. Though viewers did not kill Arthur Cave, their need to connect to his death and to witness Nick and Susie’s loss has resulted in a document of grief that, much like a Passion Play, can be replayed time and again. But, unlike a Passion Play, the events documented in One More Time With Feeling are inescapably real, horrifyingly personal and all conveniently staged to maximize viewers’ visual and aural pleasure. What One More Time With Feeling makes clear is Arthur Cave’s death killed his family at least to some extent. Thus a better title for the film might be Witness to the Execution.

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