Every once in a while - maybe every three years or so - you experience a work so devastating in its impact that it makes you reevaluate the power art has over you and the place it holds in your life. This film is one such work.
All too often we use words like ‘breathtaking’ and ‘speechless’ without comprehending what they really mean. I’ll admit I’ve often been guilty of it. Perhaps that’s something that is inevitable for all us though, given that the finite limits of language can only ever convey a flawed interpretation of our abstract and infinitely varied thoughts. But hey-ho; that’s life. A film like One More Time With Feeling makes you feel those very things you often say but don’t actually mean. There were moments watching it where I literally had to remind myself to breathe, and leaving the cinema afterwards I was unable to speak without some serious effort. So I feel justified in saying that the film was ‘breathtaking’ and left me ‘speechless’, because it was, and it did.
Much like Martin Scorsese’s Shine A Light, a quasi-biopic of the Rolling Stones, Andrew Dominik’s One More Time With Feeling liberally mixes live footage of the band performing with ruminations from the musicians as well as the director. Both films flick between the set-ups of shots and the shots themselves, revealing in a Godardian way the methods of filmmaking. Such a decision bequeaths both films a very intimate feeling, with all the awkwardness and accidental humour of the documentary process left in, so that we can marvel at each little moment of human behaviour in all its glorious minutiae.
It’s tempting at the opening of One More Time With Feeling to regard it as indulgently arty-farty, given it’s filmed in black and white and luxuriates in long, directionless takes of failed camera set-ups (the crew are using an unfamiliar 3D camera and so have difficulty adjusting to it) whilst the band members get frustrated with their time-consuming fumblings. It soon becomes apparent as the film picks up however that these were entirely necessary, as they present us with an intensely personal look into the working relationship between director Andrew Dominik and Nick Cave, which later becomes crucial as the narrative takes a darker turn.
Nick Cave and Susie Bick’s 15 year-old son Arthur Cave tragically died last year, falling from a cliff in Brighton. The event, and indeed Arthur permeate the film throughout, once this terrible truth becomes clear. Just as Cave poignantly puts it in the film, however much the family tries to carry on with life and move away from that event, the elastic band that connects the two always snaps them right back to it. It is appropriate then that the film charts this same experience for the audience, however lost we get in the beautifully composed monochrome images and haunting tones of the Bad Seeds – performing music from their new album Skeleton Tree – we are never far from the heart-wrenching trauma that seethes unspoken beneath it all. Even talking about it I feel uncomfortable, with much the same sentiment that Cave articulates in the film, that to try and express it is only a disservice to Arthur. He says: “it happened to us, but it happened to him.” So I’ll leave it there, for fear of labouring a sensitive point best left alone.
Looking back on what I’ve here written, I’m disappointed with my own inability to say what I wanted to. But perhaps that is what this film does to you; it spits you out impotently babbling and unable to express yourself, so powerful and multi-faceted is it in its emotional impact.
Suffice to say this film is a masterpiece, and that for all its seeming pretension it is actually as honest and genuine a film as can ever be crafted. It renders a star-rating obsolete since it transcends any and every arbitrary criteria for categorisation, through its baring of both the filmic process and the the souls of those who partake in it. However for the necessarily condensed purposes of a review let’s give it full marks, with the intangible Spinal Tap desire to dial it up to 11.
One More Time With Feeling, directed by Andrew Dominik, is distributed by Picturehouse Entertainment, Certificate 15.