The last time filmmaker Andrew Dominik (The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford) collaborated with Nick Cave, on 2016’s One More Time With Feeling, the recording of Cave’s sixteenth LP Skeleton Tree provided the framework for a raw, monochromatic exploration of grief as Cave reeled from the tragic death of his son Arthur. Five years and a pandemic later, the pair have reunited for a lovingly crafted, rapturous music documentary-cum-concert film that transcends grief, isolation and Covid to capture the light at the end of the tunnel. Releasing just days after the unexpected passing of Cave’s 30 year old son Jethro Lazenby, the film’s warmth and light only feels all the more timely as it seeks to bring comfort to viewers. Hopefully in time, it will do the same for Cave too.
The music is the main event here, and it doesn’t disappoint. Trading the recording studio for a sparsely set, high-walled warehouse bathed in beatific light, Dominik gives us front-row seats to simply staged yet immersive performances from 2019 Bad Seeds masterpiece Ghosteen and 2021’s lockdown-reflective Warren Ellis team-up Carnage. Two cameras set in a circular dolly-track hypnotically loop around Cave, Ellis and a small set of backing musicians as bright, dancing lights visualise the spirits their ethereal rock conjures. Director of photography Robbie Ryan, working with a soothing palette of silvers and greens, evokes awe and creates intimacy with deft aspect-ratio shifts and inventive framing. Cameras swirl euphorically around the anthemic ‘Ghosteen Speaks’ and pull in close for Cave’s fragile falsetto on ‘Hollywood’, allowing the shamanic rocker to hold us in the palm of his hand.
Candid interviews with Cave and Ellis see Dominik checking in with the duo, illuminating their unique dynamic in the process.
Away from the grand piano and synthesisers, candid interviews with Cave and Ellis see Dominik checking in with the duo, illuminating their unique dynamic in the process. Early on, Cave talks through a series of haunting ceramic sculptures he’s made during lockdown that depict Satan’s life, death and — symbolically, you feel — forgiveness. Later, he digs into questions fans have sent into his Red Hand Files website, a self-described “spiritual practice” that keeps him “on the better end of [his] nature”, with a consideration and profound wisdom that creates the sense of a man at peace with his loss and life’s unavoidable chaos. Ellis, on the other hand — whose man-of-the-woods look betrays an angelic voice and virtuosic musicianship that Cave believes inspires his best work — is chaos personified. While it would’ve been nice to see more of him here, a glimpse inside Ellis’ messy flat, Dominik’s shocked, “Holy shit!” upon noticing his rammed desktop, and the pride of his Emily Dickinson Herbarium facsimile offer flashes of insight into a singular creative mind.
The film climaxes with a triumphant rendition of quarantine ballad ‘Balcony Man’. “This morning is amazing and so are you,” Cave jubilantly croons, golden light shining on him and his collaborators. Having previously witnessed his dark night of the soul, and with the world experiencing its own right now, Cave’s parting message is one of profound hope to carry forwards through these uncertain times.