wed 29/06/2022

This Much I Know to Be True review - Nick Cave’s redemption songs | reviews, news & interviews

This Much I Know to Be True review - Nick Cave’s redemption songs

This Much I Know to Be True review - Nick Cave’s redemption songs

Gripping performance and divine grace in Cave's latest forensic doc

Me and my shadow: Nick Cave and Warren Ellis play on

Nick Cave’s cinematic progress has been unexpectedly, catastrophically personal. 20,000 Days On Earth (2014) introduced Bad Seed Warren Ellis as his droll, wild-bearded foil, with scripted, semi-fictitious revelations.

Andrew Dominik’s One More Time with Feeling (2016) was a compassionate crescendo of grief at the death of Cave’s son Arthur, alongside sessions for the album Skeleton Tree, finding the singer suddenly raw and defenceless, searching for balance and a way forward.

Dominik returns here to film lockdown performances of songs from Ghosteen, the record which truly reckoned with Arthur’s loss and Cave’s survival, in a seemingly more straightforward, pandemic version of a concert film, much like Idiot Prayer: Nick Cave Alone at Alexandra Palace (2020). In fact, it continues the singer’s unexpected ascent to painfully won grace.

Dominik shot the performances in five days, in Battersea Arts Centre. He reveals banks of lights and circling cameramen like a magic trick in plain sight, string quartet and backing vocalists materialising and vanishing in the edit as Ellis conducts and capers like a shaman, and Cave inhabits each word, spot-lit like a priest at the pulpit. Those lights pulse like hot and cold suns, and colour Cave’s close-up face sallow. They climax with the blinding white light and plunging darkness of “Hollywood”, his account of a star in LA twilight. The music is suspended, relentless, synths sighing as he sings a falsetto parable, realising the city’s “a long way to go to find peace of mind”, as his family did when they returned with their grief to Brighton.

Nick Cave and Warren Ellis in This Much I Know to Be TrueCave has entered the rock star pantheon in the last decade, partly due to ambitious career management – he wasn’t playing the O2 Arena or making US strides before – but mostly thanks to his work’s rare seriousness and consistency. These recent films’ hyper-intense, breathless sensitivity to his movements and thoughts would take the smallest nudge to tip into preciousness and pretension, Aussie irreverence keeping Cave, Ellis and Dominik on the tightrope.

Cave’s wife Susie Bick was a major part of One More Time with Feeling’s bereft, wracked confessional. Dominik barely touches domestic life this time, focusing brief offstage interludes on Ellis and Cave’s musical relationship: a “strange, meditative” thing for Ellis, which makes Cave “sift through an ocean of bullshit”, counters the singer, who imagines himself the helpless victim of his friend's enthusiasms. Nearer the Seeds-ologists' knuckle, Dominik asks Cave about Ellis’s early band status, alongside the likes of Mick Harvey (who lost the right-hand role to him, and left). “He started in a subordinate role, and then slowly, one by one, he started taking out the other Bad Seeds,” Cave chortles. “I’ll be the next to go…"

Dominik’s feature films have investigated extreme violence and myth-making in the fantastical criminal biopic Chopper (2000) and the sombre, meditative, Cave and Ellis-scored Western The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007). A cameo here by Marianne Faithfull, suffering with an oxygen mask after illness, vulnerably embarrassed by the cameras but toughly committed to the work, is a poignant vignette of iconic rock life.

Nick Cave and Warren Ellis in This Much I Know to Be TrueCave’s Red Hand Files blog has made him, amongst other things, a grief guru. It’s a “spiritual process”, he explains, tempering his nature with compassion’s requirements. In One More Time with Feeling, he carried Arthur’s loss like a chasm in his heart and flinched from pity. Now, this divinely minded songwriter has gained redemptive wisdom. “We are not in control,” he realises, but “not without power…you can move towards the opportunities presented to you” by life’s “vagaries”. In the following song from Cave and Ellis’s 2021 album Carnage, “White Elephant”, a protagonist is reassuringly still moved “to shoot you in your fucking face”, as strobes pound through its surreal, Trumpian apocalypse towards the gospel ecstasy of “a kingdom in the sky”.

“I’m much happier now than I used to be,” Cave anyway concludes. “The very nature of the world is meaningful. And people are meaningful beings.” His art now comes second to his humanity, changing this film's sensibility. The death this week of Cave’s son Jethro is an unknowable further blow. I hope the benign, divinely comforted man caught working here endures.

These films’ hyper-intense, breathless sensitivity to Cave's movements and thoughts would take the smallest nudge to tip into pretension

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Average: 4 (1 vote)

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