Directed by Andrew Dominik
Awkwardly paced at times but brilliantly shot in black and white (using a 3D black and white camera, with no glasses needed), this is an extremely personal look into not just the creative process of Nick Cave, but much more importantly, how he uses this process to work through the grief of losing his son Arthur, to whom the film is dedicated, and how that traumatic event has changed him, as a person, as a writer, and as a musician.
He discusses this at length and Cave has such a way with words it is hard to not become entranced by his creative pondering and his overall world-view. He mentions at one point how important words are to our existence, our consciousness, and obviously to him. There is no doubt that he is a very interesting man, and we are lucky enough to get close to him via this film.
The film feels very unscripted. Cave at times seems genuinely lost for words, sometimes stuttering to get his thoughts out. There is a lot of narration, and every word he says is worth savouring. We get close and personal, much unlike 20,000 Days, and we are fortunate to learn more about this enigmatic character at a time of extreme trauma. Kudos to Nick Cave for doing this, and Skeleton Tree is the result of a changed man with a changed approach to song writing, creativity, his relationship with his wife, and to life in general.
During the live takes of albums, the camera seems to endlessly spin around the group of musicians, which gets old and repetitive. And dizzying! This thankfully is broken up by many memorable cinematic moments during the takes, some hallucinatory in nature, adding to the overwhelming power that these performances possess. Unlike 20,000 Days, where we got a taste, here we see full performances of seven of the eight album tracks, witnessing just how these incredible tracks came to life.
Having missed the initial (one night only) screening which preceded the album launch, I have had many thorough listens to this new album. Nick explains how the album abandons the perfectionist attitude that they practised in the past, rather relying more on improvisation while jamming; that unspoken bond between musicians who have been working together for a long time. The result is a dark, atmospheric, almost desperate sounding record that is truly a result of Cave’s tragic loss, complete with Cave’s unique, off-beat lyrical style.
Speaking of the other musicians, we get a fantastic insight into the role Warren Ellis plays when working with Cave. His ethereal, dreamy but dark sounds fill the song above, giving it an almost ominous sound. The two have a definite bond that has been developed over the years, a unique bond that only musicians can experience.
Cave tells how Warren can take the melodies he is singing, pick up a violin, or a synthesiser, take your pick, and using his musical wizardry he enhances these melodies into something Cave himself could never have dreamt of. No wonder the two are making their mark in the world of soundtracks, having scored Hell or High Water this year, with numerous older credits to their names too.
The film is very raw, but one gets the sense that this was the aim. To make a documentary that truly digs into the deep and emotional waters of having lost a child, and how that changes a thinking man such as Cave. He even notes at one point, why the fuck am I here? I’d never have done this before! This informal nature of the presentation feels very real, and very apt, as there are a few awkward moments between Cave and the director that seem to have been intentionally not edited out.
Many scenes show us that Cave is still healing, and while he has still retained his sense of humour, one gets the feeling his smile is hiding a dark inner-self. When being interviewed it somehow feels like the impact of his loss has not hit him as hard as it will, despite having exorcised this album from his mind.
And that there lies the point of the film. Creating this album has helped Cave make sense of a world suddenly changed beyond recognition, and at least for this man, and his wife who designs dresses, art is providing invaluable therapeutic benefits that we are luckily enough to witness on film. There is no doubt that the production of this album has helped Cave make ‘narrative sense’ of events, but he still appears to be very vulnerable despite being as articulate as always. Again, credit to the Cave family, as they have truly bared all for this production and it adds so much to the power of the album itself. Our world is better off with this enigmatic Aussie in it, even if he is experiencing grief unlike anything he has felt before.
A full sixer. One of the best documentaries I have seen. A very special film.
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