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

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

Move away from the jams.

Aladdin (2019)
(SPOILERS) I was never overly enamoured by the early ‘90s renaissance of Disney animation, so the raves over Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin left me fairly unphased. On the plus side, that means I came to this live action version fairly fresh (prince); not quite a whole new world but sufficiently unversed in the legend to appreciate it as its own thing. And for the most part, Aladdin can be considered a moderate success. There may not be a whole lot of competition for that crown (I’d give the prize to Pete’s Dragon, except that it was always part-live action), but this one sits fairly comfortably in the lead.

He made me look the wrong way and I cut off my hand. He could make you look the wrong way and you could lose your whole head.

Moonstruck (1987)
(SPOILERS) Moonstruck has the dubious honour of making it to the ninth spot in Premiere magazine’s 2006 list of the 20 Most Overrated Movies of all Time. There are certainly some valid entries (number one is, however, absurd), but I’m not sure that, despite its box office success and Oscar recognition, the picture has a sufficient profile to be labelled with that adjective. It’s a likeable, lightweight romantic comedy that can boast idiosyncratic casting in a key role, but it simply doesn’t endure quotably or as a classic couple matchup the way the titans of the genre (Annie Hall, When Harry Met Sally) do. Even its magical motif is rather feeble.

Why would I turn into a filing cabinet?

Captain Marvel (2019)
(SPOILERS) All superhero movies are formulaic to a greater or lesser degree. Mostly greater. The key to an actually great one – or just a pretty good one – is making that a virtue, rather than something you’re conscious of limiting the whole exercise. The irony of the last two stand-alone MCU pictures is that, while attempting to bring somewhat down-the-line progressive cachet to the series, they’ve delivered rather pedestrian results. Of course, that didn’t dim Black Panther’s cultural cachet (and what do I know, swathes of people also profess to loving it), and Captain Marvel has hit half a billion in its first few days – it seems that, unless you’re poor unloved Ant-Man, an easy $1bn is the new $700m for the MCU – but neither’s protagonist really made that all-important iconic impact.

Bleach smells like bleach.

Million Dollar Baby (2004)
(SPOILERS) I’d like to be able to say it was beyond me how Clint’s misery-porn fest hoodwinked critics and the Academy alike, leading to his second Best Picture and Director double Oscar win. Such feting would naturally lead you to assume Million Dollar Baby was in the same league as Unforgiven, when it really has more in common with The Mule, only the latter is likeably lightweight and nonchalant in its aspirations. This picture has buckled beneath the burden of self-appointed weighty themes and profound musings, which only serve to highlight how crass and manipulative it is.

You're reading a comic book? What are you, retarded?

Watchmen: The Ultimate Cut (2009)
(SPOILERS) It’s a decade since the holy grail of comic books finally fought through decades of development hell to land on the big screen, via Zach Snyder’s faithful but not faithful enough for the devoted adaptation. Many then held the director’s skills with a much more open mind than they do now – following the ravages he has inflicted on the DCEU – coming as he was off the back of the well-received 300. Many subsequently held that his Watchmen, while visually impressive, had entirely missed the point (not least in some of its stylistic and aesthetic choices). I wouldn’t go that far – indeed, for a director whose bombastic approach is often only a few notches down from Michael Bay (who was, alarmingly, also considered to direct at one point), there are sequences in Watchmen that show tremendous sensitivity – but it’s certainly the case that, even or especially in its Ultimate Cut form and for all the furore the change to the end of the story provoked,…

I’d kill you too, Keanu. I’d kill you just for fun, even if I didn’t have to.

Always Be My Maybe (2019)
(SPOILERS) The pun-tastic title of this Netflix romcom is a fair indication of its affably undemanding attributes. An unapologetic riff on When Harry Met Sally, wherein childhood friends rather than college attendees finally agree the best thing to be is together, it’s resolutely determined to cover no new ground, all the way through to its positive compromise finale. That’s never a barrier to a good romcom, though – at their best, their charm is down to ploughing familiar furrows. Always Be My Maybe’s problem is that, decent comedy performers though the two leads may be – and co-writers with Michael Golamco – you don’t really care whether they get together or not. Which isn’t like When Harry Met Sally at all.

You're always sorry, Charles, and there's always a speech, but nobody cares anymore.

X-Men: Dark Phoenix (2019)
(SPOILERS) To credit its Rotten Tomatoes score (22%), you’d think X-Men: Dark Phoenix was a travesty that besmirched the name of all good and decent (read: MCU proper) superhero movies, or even last week’s underwhelming creature feature (Godzilla: King of Monsters has somehow reached 40%, despite being a lesser beast in every respect). Is the movie’s fate a self-fulfilling prophecy, what with delayed release dates and extensively reported reshoots? Were critics castigating a fait accompli turkey without giving it a chance? That would be presupposing they’re all sheep, though, and in fairness, other supposed write-offs havecome back from such a brink in the past (World War Z). Whatever the feelings of the majority, Dark Phoenix is actually a mostly okay (twelfth) instalment in the X-franchise – it’s exactly what you’d expect from an X-Men movie at this point, one without any real mojo left and a variable cast struggling to pull its weight. The third act is a bi…

They went out of business, because they were too good.

School for Scoundrels (1960)
(SPOILERS) Possibly the pinnacle of Terry-Thomas’ bounder persona, and certainly the one where it’s put to best caddish use, as he gives eternally feckless mug Ian Carmichael a thorough lesson in one-upmanship, only for the latter to turn the tables when he finds himself a tutor. School for Scoundrels is beautifully written (by an uncredited Peter Ustinov and Frank Tarloff), filled with clever set pieces, a fine supporting cast and a really very pretty object of the competing chaps’ affection (Janette Scott), but it’s Terry-Thomas who is the glue that binds this together. And, while I couldn’t say for sure, this might have the highest “Hard cheese” count of any of his films.

Based on Stephen Potter’s 1947’s humorous self-help bestseller (and subsequent series of -manship books) The Theory and Practice of Gamesmanship (or The Art of Winning Games without Actually Cheating), which suggested ungentlemanly methods for besting an opponent in any given field, gam…

I should have mailed it to the Marx Brothers.

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)
When your hero(es) ride off into the sunset at the end of a film, it’s usually a pretty clear indication that a line is being drawn under their adventures. Sure, rumours surfaced during the ‘90s of various prospective screenplays for a fourth outing for the whip-cracking archeologist. But I’m dubious anyone really expected it to happen. There seemed to be a natural finality to Last Crusade that made the announcement of his 2007 return nostalgically welcome but otherwise unwarranted. That it turned out so tepid merely seemed like confirmation of what we already knew; Indy’s time was past.