Music documentaries often follow one of a few common narratives, whether documenting the rise (and often) fall of a band or musician, or following the making of an album or tour. Once More With Feeling fills a couple of different roles in that it acts as a preview and scene-setter for Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds’ new album Skeleton Tree, released the day after the worldwide screening of the film, as well as a raw and intimate insight into negotiating the cycles of grief and how real-life tragedy can inform creativity.
Filmed on exquisite black and white (and in 3D), Andrew Dominik takes a layered approach of performance, voiceover, evocative and inventive establishing shots and straight interview footage. The result is a documentary of a documentary. He’s produced a film that looks magnificent and most importantly, conveys the range of emotion when Cave’s family unit is fractured by the accidental death of his son Arthur who fell from a cliff in 2015. Cave is confused and frustrated, seesawing between self-doubt and resilience while he and wife Susie immerse themselves in their work as one way of dealing with the trauma.
Warren Ellis is portrayed as a loyal and steadfast friend and musical partner and there is a strong sense that their music – and the physical process of making it – is a critical way forward, a beacon through the darkness. Cave comes out of the film as an utterly human figure, creatively paralysed by his loss but knowing that the music and his family are also his saving grace.