I am struggling a bit with this review, because while I did go into the cinema with the intention of writing about it, after seeing it I don’t feel like I can treat it like any other movie, especially a fictional one. We also stupidly missed the first few seconds (yes, walking into a packed movie theater and awkwardly ducking and tripping over feet and bags on the floor).
I didn’t know quite what to expect, I guess more of a fly on the wall style documentary but it turned out to be something entirely different. A much rounder and fuller experience than merely watching a film, enhanced through the 3D effect and the hypnotic tunes of Nick Cave’s voice and The Bad Seeds’ instrumentation. It’s a provocation of the senses really despite it being shot in black and white for the most part.
‘One more time with feeling’ is a highly immersive portrait about Nick Cave’s making of his album 'Skeleton Tree', but the underlying tragedy of it is the death of his son Arthur at the age of 15 last year. The loss of a child must be the most devastating loss imaginable- or in fact, it is impossible to imagine- and the exact circumstances of his fatal accident remain unspoken about. The presence of his absence is dragged across the film like a black veil and is mainly referred to indirectly except for later on in the film when Nick’s wife Susie holds a painting that Arthur had made when he was a little boy, depicting the place where he fell and later passed away.
Nick is the narrator of the bits in between the songs they perform in the studio. This gives him control about what he wants to say and how much he wants to reveal. Andrew Dominik manages to capture the artist’s way of coping without ever crossing the line to use emotions to achieve spectacle or pity. Nick Cave soberly describes the way that an event of such severity transforms you completely, to the point where you do not recognize yourself in the mirror because the tragedy did not happen to the person you used to be and were familiar with, you are now a different person and merely share the body of the person you used to be.
Throughout the film we fill in the blanks. Every reference made to Nick’s personal disaster carries his son’s shadow, everything he says is framed by his tragedy. When he is speaking with Andrew in the car and he says life is not a story, you’re born and then you decay- we cannot help but think that this is something Arthur never experienced. Every lyric we understand as if it is dedicated to his son, like falling from the sky and crash landing in a field in 'Jesus Alone', or as the attempt to communicate with him: ‘I call out right across the sea, but the echo comes back empty’ ('Skeleton Tree').
In terms of how the film was made, I doubt I have the appropriate know-how to accurately describe it, but all I can say is it was incredibly well made and it complimented the music and narrative so well. The shots of Nick and the band in the studio are mesmerizing and each song is given an individual look and in combination with the visual elements and the heartbreaking context it is impossible not to get goosebumps during ‘I need you’ and ‘The girl in amber’.
Another moment which made my skin crawl- though there were many of them- is when Susie, Nick’s wife, and Earl, Nick’s son and Arthur’s twin brother, come to visit the set. Nick’s face lights up when he greets Earl whose youthful energy and curiosity is bittersweet. Inevitably we are asking ourselves how he has experienced the tragedy. How such a young life is burdened with such a heavy trauma.
Or similarly, when Nick talks about how, while he can continue with his life and function somehow, thinking about the day and the event is a place he doesn’t want to go in his mind. How it’s like an elastic band that will always take a hold of you again, no matter where you go. How he wishes he could some it up with a bumper sticker slogan like ‘He lives on in my heart’, but the truth is that while he’s in his heart, he doesn’t live at all. How we treat it like ‘it happened to us… but it happened to him.’
The end really got to me. It shows single portrait shots of everyone involved in the making of the film- crew and The Bad Seeds- then Nick, Susie, and finally Earl. The last shot is just the blank wall in front of which they were all standing, a void that unescapably carries Arthur’s name. It then cuts to images of Brighton’s scenery, to white cliffs and the sea, accompanied by a recording of Earl and Arthur.
Once the credits started to roll the tension was released and I had tears streaming down my face for a little while. Maybe this is because the film managed to make me subconsciously grasp a miniscule fraction of what this grief must feel like. Not the situation of losing a child, because nothing could convey this level of agony, just the grief, of which ‘One more time with feeling’ is an extraordinary, haunting portrait.