The director says I look like a battered monument. I have a terrible feeling he’s trying to be kind to me.
One More Time with Feeling
Perhaps the aspect most underlining the legitimacy of this nominal making-of-an-album (Skeleton Key) documentary is that the tragedy informing it is never even outlined (I admit, while I knew the basics, I wasn’t aware of the tabloid free-for-all that ensued). Nick Cave lost a son, and as close as we come to addressing the circumstances outright is his comment “Every time I articulate it, it does him a disservice”.
Director Andrew Dominik originally intended to make a performance-based piece, and you can see this more functional approach in the problems with the 3D camera that open the documentary. It surely wouldn’t have developed that way if the more ruminative, reflective, contemplative aspects of the interview process had been considered at the outset, as technical trials tend to hamper such openness. The musical renditions are gorgeous, mesmerising affairs, however, and Dominik shoots them in a manner that captivates. Particularly so the formulation of the album’s spoken word opener, Jesus Alone, with its atmospheric, minimalist accompaniment as Cave’s persuaded he needs to do an overdub.
The doc includes significant contributions from Warren Ellis (who looks like Joaquin Phoenix in his art instillation period) and Susie Bick, but Cave is obviously front and centre (there’s a nagging feeling that Bick’s inclusion is, with noble intentions, designed to show her as an independent person with her own goals, but it has rather the opposite effect). He is candidly elliptic in his conversation, addressing the sheer impossibility of putting into words his feelings over his loss, yet with his every contribution he reminds you he is indeed a philosopher poet (he comments of the album that he usually doesn’t “let lines go I’m not really pleased with” but this time his approach has been different – you wouldn’t know it, even in his off-the-cuff conversation).
Cave discusses the suggestion that his songs have a prophetic nature, something his wife is superstitious about, unconvinced by the idea, but Dominik succeeds in pulling us into Cave’s subdued maelstrom, with his admission of the loss of Arthur that “It’s affected me in a way I don’t understand”. And how he still recognises the person he sees in mirror, but within is another person. And how incidents are revealing, of crying in a friend’s arms only for Cave to realise they’re someone else he didn’t actually know very well. And the obverse, in response to a room filled with kind eyes (“But when did you become an object of pity?”)
He’s also more than willing to slay a few sacred cows, such as the notion that trauma fuels creativity, since he found it only impeded the imagination because it left no room for anything else. Some of his observations are more general, such as on the aging process (“You decay and you sort of diminish… The struggle to do what I do requires more effort”) or musing on anything that may disrupt the status quo (“Most of us don’t want to change, really. I mean, why should we?”) and his belief that there are no such things as accidents, applying this musically (rather than in relation to the singular accident that overshadows everything). Rather, they’re a magical synthesis.
Dominik takes on board the looseness of Cave’s announced approach to how he now composes (“I don’t believe in the narrative any more… I don’t believe that there’s a pleasing resolve”), whereby the resulting fractured narrative and its distressing logic is much more real to the way the musician feel about things. So in his design of the picture, Dominik imparts a feeling of unfolding as it will, organically, while sufficiently aware enough of his own feelings on the matter (that life is a natural, enforced narrative, and by extension so is a movie, since both have a beginning and ultimately an end) to come back to the notion of elasticity Cage mulls over in the opening sequences (how a friend was mentioning “how time feels elastic these days, the idea that all things are happening all the time... All past, present and future are happening right now”). In closing Cave suggests, perhaps more theoretically than practically, that he and Susie have decided to be happy. You hope only that they get there.
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