Image: Bad Seed Ltd

REVIEW: Nick Cave – This Much I Know To Be True

Nick Cave and filmmaker Andrew Dominik go way back. Dominik, who’s ten years Cave’s junior, met the Bad Seeds frontperson at a drug dealer’s house in late-1980s Melbourne. Cave’s public persona in this era was anything but polite, and per Dominik’s recollection, it was even grislier behind closed doors.

“He just turned around and bared his teeth at me, with his wild hair and crazy eyes, and growled,” Dominik said in an interview with the ABC.

The pair’s professional relationship stretches back to at least 2007, when Dominik hired Cave and his Bad Seeds accomplice, the multi-instrumentalist Warren Ellis, to compose the score for his Hollywood debut, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, which starred Brad Pitt.

The relationship took on a new level of intimacy with the 2016 documentary, One More Time With Feeling – a film that captured Cave and the Bad Seeds at work on their sixteenth studio album, Skeleton Tree. Skeleton Tree is one of the essential items in Cave’s body of work, and Dominik’s tactile and dramatic magnification of the album’s creation – through use of a circular dolly track and black and white film – was enough to make One More Time With Feeling necessary viewing for any Nick Cave fan.

One More Time With Feeling was filmed following the death of Nick and Susie Cave’s 15-year-old son, Arthur, the twin brother of Earl (who’s now 21-years-old), and Dominik’s film balanced cinematic elan and musical brilliance with moments of sobering guilelessness from both director and star.

Now, six years later, Cave and Dominik – and Ellis – present This Much I Know to Be True, a film centred on Cave and the Bad Seeds’ 2019 album, Ghosteen, and Cave and Ellis’ 2021 album, CarnageThis Much I Know to Be True is certainly more performance-oriented than One More Time With Feeling, but it eschews all the conventions of concert films and live-in-the-studio telecasts.

Dominik worked on the film with cinematographer Robbie Ryan, who previously shot Cave’s lockdown concert film, Idiot Prayer, which streamed internationally in July 2020. As was the case with Idiot Prayer, there is no audience present as Cave and Ellis perform in the hollowed out Battersea Arts Centre, a Victorian-era town hall in south London.

Cave is not known for going easy on listeners – this is the artist responsible for Murder Ballads and ‘Red Right Hand,’ for instance –but Ghosteen ranks as the most sublimely emotive record in his four-decade back catalogue. It’s a double album made in close partnership with Ellis, and in lieu of gestural darkness and violent imagery, Cave puts his energy into the beautification of grief and yearning for salvation.

During the film’s 100-minute running time, Cave and Ellis perform the majority of the album’s tracks, joined intermittently by a trio of vocalists, a trio of string musicians, and a drummer. Ryan’s camera work and Dominik’s direction don’t shy away from the devastation at the core of these compositions. As such, the albums’ emotionally resonant songs, such as ‘Bright Horses,’ ‘Galleon Ship,’ and ‘Albuquerque’ take on an even more tear-provoking character than they had on record.

Throughout This Much I Know to Be True, it’s made abundantly clear that Nick Cave circa-2022 is very much a two-person operation. The film not only emphasises how indispensable Ellis was to the creation of Ghosteen and Carnage, but implies that Cave’s late-career evolution – which has brought about a boost in commercial and critical standing – couldn’t have been achieved without Ellis’ ceaseless creative input.

Viewers who were deeply moved by the radical intimacy of One More Time With Feeling might wish the new film placed greater emphasis on the thoughts and feelings of Nick Cave, the 64-year-old individual. Though, while This Much I Know to Be True is largely performance-oriented, it’s augmented by a number of clips of Cave speaking to Dominik on subjects such as self-definition and his partnership with Ellis. (The film also shows off Cave’s newfound flair as a ceramicist.)

For the most part, however, Dominik lets Cave and Ellis’ music do the talking. It’s an emotional journey, to put it lightly, but by its conclusion, a feeling of peace prevails.

This Much I Know To Be True is now showing in select cinemas around Australia.

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