Guest contributor Noni Ford reflects on the complexities of grief and the staying power of One More Time with Feeling.
The greatest element of art is its capacity to transform pain into an experience that can be shared and understood in some measure by all people. While Nick Cave was in the midst of making his sixteenth studio album with the Bad Seeds, his son Arthur died tragically young, and it rocked his family member’s lives as well as his own. Instead of choosing to stop the project he soldiered on and created a uniquely beautiful album about his grief. In lieu of conducting a press tour he decided to release a film called One More Time with Feeling with music from the album Skeleton Tree in order to give his music coverage while also staying with his family. This event was shown across the country for only one night and I was lucky enough to see a screening of it at the IU Cinema. Even though there was a torrential rainstorm that night, I didn’t let it stop me from getting to the theatre since I knew this would be my only chance to see the film. The film was a journey and an experience that I couldn’t forget. I has stuck in my memory since September.
The beautiful thing about Nick Cave and his art is that there is never just one way to read it, because there are shades of meaning in every line of his lyrics. The complexity of emotions in the lyrics is reflected in the man as he tries to explain the encapsulation of his inner grief, sometimes simply with his gestures, but mostly through his words. All throughout the album he tries to reconcile how he feels about his family tragedy and its effects. He is himself still contemplating all he feels and all he has felt, which makes the pain and the grief only seem more fresh.
Not simply focusing on his own relationship to the tragedy, Nick Cave and the filmmaker Andrew Dominik also show how the events of Cave’s son’s death affect the family. At some point when Cave’s simply looking at the camera and answering questions he says that of course the death is something that affected him, but just as much as it affected Arthur who it happened to. Nothing is clear cut. There is no road map to grief, but I don’t think that is at all what Cave’s trying to provide. He is not a man that ever preaches. Like a philosopher he theorizes about the experiences of life, but also like a professor gives you a paradox and asks you which you see more truth in or want to see truth in.
At some point in the film it was hard to watch because I felt like an intruder on this raw grief, that cannot be hidden or eluded to but was presented without any fuss or frills. What kept me watching is the fact that Cave chose to show this for a reason. He wanted the fans to see what state he was in and to know he wasn’t all right—and he was. Art and life cannot be kept separate simply because you can’t have one without the other and Cave’s personal experiences have always intermingled with his songs and his vision. He’s staying as true as ever when he shows his grief, but he’s also being candid and being human. No matter how much a fan you are, or whatever significance and extraordinary powers you believe he possesses at the end of the film and the album, he is just a man who has lost his son. He is broken, and, though he will not always be this broken, a part of him will always be broken. That’s because his son fell and he died at 15 years old, and, yes, he’s an artist and a visionary and that’s why he delivered us this visual album, but now it’s time to leave him and his family be while they grieve for their son and brother.
One More Time with Feeling directed by Andrew Dominik screened at IU Cinema on September 9, 2016 as part of a unique one-night-only cinema event in the International Arthouse Series
Noni Ford is a junior in the Media School with a concentration in Cinema and Media Arts and a specialization in Art, Aesthetics, and Experimental Film. She has been a volunteer at the cinema since 2014, and actually went to one of its first showings when she was just starting high school. This spring semester she is heading to Canterbury, England to study at the film school in the University of Kent.