Film Review: One More Time With Feeling

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“Our son Arthur died on Tuesday evening. He was our beautiful, happy loving boy. We ask that we be given the privacy our family needs to grieve at this difficult time.” This is what the statement Nick Cave’s family released upon the death of their child. Although Cave, of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, has spoken on the loss in interviews since, his most touching remark has been One More Time With Feeling. The documentary tracks the recording of the band’s sixteenth album, Skeleton Tree, which was written in the aftermath of Arthur’s death.

There is both an absence and a presence in the studio, on the record, and in the film. Although Arthur is mentioned perhaps once by name, he is felt the entire time. When his twin brother takes polaroids of the recording booth, when his mother produces a picture he had drawn at a young age of the Brighton cliffs, when his father’s voice cracks. This negative space created around the tragedy is the documentary greatest strength.

One More Time With Feeling combines the electronic and ethereal tracks of Skeleton Tree with footage shot in Brighton, La Frette-sur-Seine and London where the band recorded the album over the course of two years. This formula is familiar, but the resulting presentation is immersive. The atmosphere is all encompassing and bolstered by the fact that the documentary was shot almost entirely in three dimensional black and white, a viewpoint that an audience member can’t help but to fall into.

The soundtrack and scoring continue to shatter any sense of equilibrium. Cave’s poetry and spoken word as well as Skeleton Tree‘s ambient tracks match perfectly by the fluidity of the film as it shifts between scenes of Cave at a piano to computer generated tracking shots that slip between walls into adjoining rooms. Even in the more traditional, formal interview style sit-downs with Cave and his family in their home, there is still a sense of being submersed.

As the record is being written, viewers can thus both hear and see Cave struggling while working in a medium he’s spent his entire life perfecting. Although he wrestles with how to say it, Cave’s words, his lyrics, his silences all carry the message, each echoing the same thing: the grief of a father who has lost a child. The audience knows what he means when the deeply spiritual Cave recites one of his untitled poems, “And everyone out here does mean / And everyone out here does pain / But someone’s gotta sing the stars / And someone’s gotta sing the rain” or when he sings, “They told us our gods would outlive us / They told us our dreams would outlive us / They told us our gods would outlive us / But they lied.” He doesn’t have to say anything else.

The most tangibly heartbreakingly poignant moment of the entire film is when the credits roll and the two Cave boys are heard performing Marianne Faithful’s “Deep Water,” the original of which features Cave himself. Angelic-sounding in their youth, they sing:

“I’m walking through deep water / Trying to get to you”

As in the rest of One More Time With Feeling, so much is said with so little.

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