One More Time with Feeling: Documentary Review
I originally wrote this review in spring 2017 for an arts journalism class at Arizona State University. I felt like I should share it (with minimal edits) since the movie has been on my mind lately, and since the class ultimately led me to embarking on the Film Studies master’s program at ASU, which I’ll begin this upcoming fall semester.
ONE MORE TIME WITH FEELING (2016) is a documentary of contradictions. It tells the story of a stark tragedy while eschewing a traditional narrative. It avoids indulgent sentimentality while instilling incredible sorrow and inspiration. Tears will flow, but so too will a life-affirming belief in the power of creativity. Its subjects are tremendously affected by their shared loss, but are so full of life that the film is hard to watch at times. Their pain is too compelling, and too vital to experience, though, so the urge to turn away is suppressed. ONE MORE TIME WITH FEELING feels voyeuristic in this regard, as it follows the life of critically lauded musician Nick Cave in the wake of his son’s accidental death at age 15. The results of Andrew Dominik’s intimate, unconventional time capsule of a film, however, stands as an uncomfortable, personal, depressing, and uplifting case study of human grief and the creativity that may, or likely may not, spawn from it.
ONE MORE TIME WITH FEELING, nor its subject Nick Cave, have anything neat or pithy to say about tragedy or loss. And yet, the film is a humanitarian triumph, providing incredible insight into the human experience. Dominik does this through an almost entirely black-and-white color palette, abstract cinematography, and brief interviews in which his own thoughts and questions are often heard. Dominik is not scared to let the film breathe; in fact, much of the film’s strongest moments are the quiet ones, in which Cave thinks, searches for a way to articulate his complicated outlook, or just goes about his business. These moments can also be awkward, but it’s clear that those involved in the documentary aren’t entirely at home with it anyways.
At the time of his son Arthur’s death, Cave and his band the Bad Seeds were in the midst of recording their album SKELETON TREE in July 2015. ONE MORE TIME WITH FEELING was shot over ten days in February 2016, about eight months after Arthur had accidentally fallen off a cliff in Brighton, England. As Cave puts it himself in the film, he may never “get over” the event, but nevertheless, the film was made so close to it, and that is part of its power. In spite of Cave’s agreement to finance and produce the film, as well as acquiescing to Dominik’s desire to transform the original concept of a performance document into one with interviews and intermittent musing narration from Cave, it’s clear that he’s not entirely at home in front of the camera talking about his son’s death.
In fact, the film opens with an interview with Warren Ellis, Cave’s bandmate and close personal friend. Ellis expresses his discomfort with talking about Cave’s personal life, and even how it has affected Ellis himself. Dominik sets the tone of this abstract, loose film right off the bat with this metanarrative approach, in that much of the film is about how crazy it is to make a film about this event and to try and create a new album in the wake of a terrible loss. He solidifies it with black screens and out of focus shots that get clearer as the camera operators try to fix it and Ellis sits there, somewhat uncomfortably. Ultimately, Dominik imparts a glaring frankness that could only work with the absolute gravity of the documentary’s subject. One of Cave’s comments later on also perfectly fits the creation of the film itself, when he talks about how only in dealing with his son’s death could he feel comfortable with making SKELETON TREE the way it is: a flawed, raw, and hard-to-make record that is only made stronger for these reasons.
With the framing of the heartbreaking moment preceding these events, small moments from Cave’s wife, Susie Bick, his other son, Arthur’s twin Earl, and Ellis are especially impactful, while the recording sessions in the studio are choreographed beautifully by Dominik’s cameras. ONE MORE TIME WITH FEELING impressively spans the wide range of human emotion, strengthening and weakening your resolve in equal measure. Its philosophy is irresistible, however, and imparts its wisdom and hopelessness long after the film’s final, tender moment plays out.