Some films come with the moniker that they deserve to be seen on the big screen. The music of Nick Cave deserves to be heard on the big screen. There’s a grandiosity in even the most intimate moments of his music that just deserves the biggest possible canvas to be exhibited. Cave is one of the last figures in pop culture to have a true sense of myth about them. Everything he does just seems to indicate that he lives in a different plane of existence than the rest of us. His last documentary 20,000 Days on Earth knew this well, and toyed with that aspect of him inventively. One More Time With Feeling does the opposite, showing Cave at his most vulnerable and human. He is one of us after all.
There’s a tragic context for this film and the album, as Cave’s young son died tragically falling off a cliff just as work on the album “Skeleton Tree” had begun. For those interested in Cave’s creatives process, there’s plenty of that in One More Time With Feeling. But the making of the album, and the film, serves its highest role as a backdrop for a meditation on grief. An interesting thing about Cave is that he doesn’t really want to be doing this film, but knows that this is the best option for him to navigate grieving in public. Andrew Dominik is no stranger to celebrity, investigating the intersection between identity and celebrity in previous masterpieces The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford(whose score was done by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis) and Chopper.
There’s a static throughout the album, a weight dropped over these songs, and it’s visualized in the black and white imagery. There’s a mutedness to the whole mood, like we are unsure just how to feel. This hollowness is not by accident, but out of empathy. Dominik approaches the camerawork like a madman, using the 3D like somebody who knows he’s never going to have the opportunity to use it with free reign again. As much as he films Cave and others with a certain reverence, he also shoots surroundings in a gonzo fish-eye lens from above, as if implying the sort of all-powerful narrative that consumes us all. Narrative is a key term throughout the film. Cave discusses how we as humans try to define our lives in narratives and stories, but at the same time it’s futile to try to find comfort in something that doesn’t exist for our sole purpose. As Dominik hovers above the spaces, is he trying to give Cave the sense of narrative we all desire, or is he suggesting that whatever omniscience governs us is indifferent? The ambiguity is essential to how compelling the photography is.
The performances of each of the songs are captivatingly shot and edited, serving as chapters through the navigation of grief. The songs are meant to be in this context, meant to be taken one at a time with breaks in between them. Color is utilized for one performance, the song “Distant Sky,” and the feeling is one of something approaching catharsis. In a beatiful moment of the sequence, Dominik’s camera zooms out slowly from the recording studio eventually ending with the whole earth in frame. It’s a strange feeling of comfort to feel so small. Just like with “Skeleton Tree,” One More Time With Feeling finds a path forward in the performance of the album’s title track. As Cave resigns with lyrics “It’s all right now” the camerawork suggests a similar form of acceptance in how free-flowing Dominik shoots the performance. As Cave theorizes in one scene, his trauma is like an event that his whole life gravitates around now, almost like a rubber band. Life continues on, he keeps going, but just like that he’ll snap right back to the event. There aren’t platitudes or easy answers that come in One More Time With Feeling in terms of how grief is overcome, or if it can be at all. But like “Skeleton Tree,” it does end with a feeling of hope, of a way forward in life.