Skip to main content

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
(2016)

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.


Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Poor Easy Breezy.

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (2019)
(SPOILERS) My initial reaction to Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood was mild disbelief that Tarantino managed to hoodwink studios into coming begging to make it, so wilfully perverse is it in disregarding any standard expectations of narrative or plotting. Then I remembered that studios, or studios that aren’t Disney, are desperate for product, and more especially, product that might guarantee them a hit. Quentin’s latest appears to be that, but whether it’s a sufficient one to justify the expense of his absurd vanity project remains to be seen.

So you want me to be half-monk, half-hitman.

Casino Royale (2006)
(SPOILERS) Despite the doubts and trepidation from devotees (too blonde, uncouth etc.) that greeted Daniel Craig’s casting as Bond, and the highly cynical and low-inspiration route taken by Eon in looking to Jason Bourne's example to reboot a series that had reached a nadir with Die Another Day, Casino Royale ends up getting an enormous amount right. If anything, its failure is that it doesn’t push far enough, so successful is it in disarming itself of the overblown set pieces and perfunctory plotting that characterise the series (even at its best), elements that would resurge with unabated gusto in subsequent Craig excursions.

For the majority of its first two hours, Casino Royale is top-flight entertainment, with returning director Martin Campbell managing to exceed his excellent work reformatting Bond for the ‘90s. That the weakest sequence (still good, mind) prior to the finale is a traditional “big” (but not too big) action set piece involving an attempt to…

I just hope my death makes more cents than my life.

Joker (2019)
(SPOILERS) So the murder sprees didn’t happen, and a thousand puff pieces desperate to fan the flames of such events and then told-ya-so have fallen flat on their faces. The biggest takeaway from Joker is not that the movie is an event, when once that seemed plausible but not a given, but that any mainstream press perspective on the picture appears unable to divorce its quality from its alleged or actual politics. Joker may be zeitgeisty, but isn’t another Taxi Driver in terms of cultural import, in the sense that Taxi Driver didn’t have a Taxi Driver in mind when Paul Schrader wrote it. It is, if you like, faux-incendiary, and can only ever play out on that level. It might be more accurately described as a grubbier, grimier (but still polished and glossy) The Talented Ripley, the tale of developing psychopathy, only tailored for a cinemagoing audience with few options left outside of comic book fare.

Remember, you're fighting for this woman's honour – which is probably more than she ever did.

Duck Soup (1933)
(SPOILERS) Not for nothing is Duck Soup acclaimed as one of the greatest comedies ever, and while you’d never hold it against Marx Brothers movies for having little in the way of coherent plotting in – indeed, it’s pretty much essential to their approach – the presence of actual thematic content this time helps sharpen the edges of both their slapstick and their satire.

Afraid, me? A man who’s licked his weight in wild caterpillars? You bet I’m afraid.

Monkey Business (1931)
(SPOILERS) The Marx Brothers’ first feature possessed of a wholly original screenplay, Monkey Business is almost brazenly dismissive towards notions of coherence, just as long as it loosely supports their trademark antics. And it does so in spades, depositing them as stowaways bound for America who fall in with a couple of mutually antagonistic racketeers/ gangsters while attempting to avoid being cast in irons. There’s no Margaret Dumont this time out, but Groucho is more than matched by flirtation-interest Thelma Todd.

You killed my sandwich!

Birds of Prey (and the Fanatabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) (2020)
(SPOILERS) One has to wonder at Bird of Prey’s 79% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. I mean, such things are to be taken with a pinch of salt at the best of times, but it would be easy, given the disparity between such evident approval and the actually quality of the movie, to suspect insincere motives on the part of critics, that they’re actually responding to its nominally progressive credentials – female protagonists in a superhero flick! – rather than its content. Which I’m quite sure couldn’t possibly be the case. Birds of Prey (and the Fanatabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) isn’t very good. The trailers did not lie, even if the positive reviews might have misled you into thinking they were misleading.

On account of you, I nearly heard the opera.

A Night at the Opera (1935)
(SPOILERS) The Marx Brothers head over to MGM, minus one Zeppo, and despite their variably citing A Night at the Opera as their best film, you can see – well, perhaps not instantly, but by about the half-hour mark – that something was undoubtedly lost along the way. It isn’t that there’s an absence of very funny material – there’s a strong contender for their best scene in the mix – but that there’s a lot else too. Added to which, the best of the very funny material can be found during the first half of the picture.

You’re a disgrace to the family name of Wagstaff, if such a thing is possible.

Horse Feathers (1932)
(SPOILERS) After a scenario that seemed feasible in Monkey Business – the brothers as stowaways – Horse Feathers opts for a massive stretch. Somehow, Groucho (Professor Quincy Adams Wagstaff) has been appointed as the president of Huxley University, proceeding to offer the trustees and assembled throng a few suggestions on how he’ll run things (by way of anarchistic creed “Whatever it is, I’m against it”). There’s a reasonably coherent mission statement in this one, however, at least until inevitably it devolves into gleeful incoherence.

Haven’t you ever heard of the healing power of laughter?

Batman (1989)
(SPOILERS) There’s Jaws, there’s Star Wars, and then there’s Batman in terms of defining the modern blockbuster. Jaws’ success was so profound, it changed the way movies were made and marketed. Batman’s marketing was so profound, it changed the way tentpoles would be perceived: as cash cows. Disney tried to reproduce the effect the following year with Dick Tracy, to markedly less enthusiastic response. None of this places Batman in the company of Jaws as a classic movie sold well, far from it. It just so happened to hit the spot. As Tim Burton put it, it was “more of a cultural phenomenon than a great movie”. It’s difficult to disagree with his verdict that the finished product (for that is what it is) is “mainly boring”.

Now, of course, the Burton bat has been usurped by the Nolan incarnation (and soon the Snyder). They have some things in common. Both take the character seriously and favour a sombre tone, which was much more of shock to the system when Burton did it (even…

To defeat the darkness out there, you must defeat the darkness inside yourself.

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (2010)
Easily the best of the Narnia films, which is maybe damning it with faint praise. 

Michael Apted does a competent job directing (certainly compared to his Bond film - maybe he talked to his second unit this time), Dante Spinotti's cinematography is stunning and the CGI mostly well-integrated with the action. 

Performance-wise, Will Poulter is a stand-out as a tremendously obnoxious little toff, so charismatic you're almost rooting for him. Simon Pegg replaces Eddie Izzard as the voice of Reepicheep and delivers a touching performance.
***