One of the greatest musicians we have, Nick Cave, is about to return to performing with a series of live dates tied to his great recent record “Skeleton Tree.” It comes after an extended gap following the tragic death of Cave’s teenage son Arthur in 2015, the aftermath of which was documented last year in Andrew Dominik’s extraordinary performance film “One More Time With Feeling,” one of our favorite films of 2016.
But in an expansive new profile for GQ by Chris Heath, Cave understandably says that his initial reaction to seeing Dominik’s film wasn’t a positive one. “I was angry about it,” he tells the magazine. “I could see from an aesthetic point of view it was an extremely accomplished and beautiful piece of work, but there were aspects of it that grated against what I am, as a person. Maybe it’s an old-school Australian thing, you know, a queasiness around public displays of emotion.… The film showed a very vulnerable person in a desperate situation and it was something that I thought that I would be embarrassed about for the rest of my life. I was worried that it would do a terrible disservice to my son, mostly. That it would appear exploitative.”
Ultimately, Cave didn’t ask for any cuts to the film, saying that he and his wife Susie “had to let it go. Who were we to judge.” In the end, Cave was won round to the film with time, and after seeing the reaction to the film among the public. “It really was extremely moving,” he says of the response. “The film seemed to give people an opportunity to open up about their own experiences.” And after renting a cinema to see the film again, he “saw the film much more for what it was. And that it was actually something that Andrew had done that was beyond… Sorry, I get quite emotional talking about this… that Andrew had an agenda that was beyond anyone’s expectations, and that it was actually a gift, to me and Susie, but mostly importantly, to Arthur. It gave Arthur’s absence, his silence, a voice. This shifted something hugely in me… the film had a freeing sort of effect on us. So the film has become really important to me, because of the kind of community that’s arisen around the film. The potential it has had as a force of healing has been extraordinary for me and Susie, but for other people too. This was Andrew’s astonishing gift. It was completely unexpected.”
Cave, in recent years, has been entwined in the film world even beyond Dominik’s film and the earlier, equally brilliant “20,000 Days On Earth.” Often as a composer — he’s worked on six scores with regular collaborator Warren Ellis (“Working very much as a kind of therapeutic activity, to be honest”), including, as Pitchfork just revealed, David Michôd’s new film, the Brad Pitt-starring Netflix comedy-drama “War Machine.” But he has also occasionally been a screenwriter, working with John Hillcoat on two films, “The Proposition” and “Lawless.”
But it was the second of those experiences that has caused Cave to, at least for the moment, retire from screenwriting. “That was it for me, really,” he says, of the compromises involved in the film. “I think I can pretty much say I’m not writing another script… I was somehow under the impression that in Hollywood, your imaginative dreams could be realized in some magical instant, which is actually just not true at all. You know, there’s a gauntlet of enemies of the imagination that you have to run through, and see if you can get to the other side with some shreds of the original idea.”
There’s lots more in the piece, including Cave talking about his bold unused script for “Gladiator 2,” which didn’t come to pass after Russell Crowe, who asked the musician to write it, wanted to go in a more fantastical direction (“Russell didn’t like it. He wanted a full-on mythological action movie, slaying dragons and sea monsters and all that sort of stuff, kind of Jason And The Argonauts and stuff like that”). It’s honestly one of the best profiles we’ve read in a long while. And if you haven’t seen “One More Time With Feeling,” you should seek it out ASAP.