Andrew Dominik on Nick Cave & One More Time With Feeling

Feature by John Bleasdale | 07 Sep 2016

Australian director Andrew Dominik recalls his first time meeting Nick Cave, and explains how his Cave doc One More Time With Feeling is really a film about the death of a son

A violent thunderstorm begins over Venice just as we sit down to interview One More Time with Feeling director Andrew Dominik. A black and white 3D documentary, his film ostensibly documents the recording of Nick Cave's 16th album The Skeleton Tree with his group The Bad Seeds, but it’s essentially about grief, following the accidental death of Cave’s teenage son Arthur a year ago.

“The film’s really just about Arthur – even the stuff about the recording of the album,” Dominik says, reaching for his cigarettes. “Even if Nick is working on the record, the voice inside him is still dealing with something else. The moment the subject of Arthur comes up, a black hole opens up in the room. As a friend, it’s not something you really want to go into; as a director you have to. So the movie tends to circle around it and gradually gets closer and closer.”

Dominik and Cave first met three decades ago. “1986. We were both using smack and we were at the drug dealer's and [Nick] was pretty terrifying,” Dominik recalls. “He was this skinny, aggressive thing on the edge of the couch who was just hair and teeth. I asked him a question and he looked around at me and snarled. I found him very intimidating. Then I started going out with this girl who had just broken up with Nick three months before. This girl’s name was Deanna.” Cave fans will recognise the name from the murderous ballad on his 1988 album Tender Prey. “Nick would call up looking to talk to her and I’d answer the phone. We started chatting.” Years later Cave would provide the soundtrack to Dominik’s masterpiece, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.

Their latest collaboration was originally planned as a way of promoting The Skeleton Tree, but One More Time with Feeling soon became much more, giving an affecting portrait of a family dealing with the unthinkable. “Arthur’s death affected many people, not just Nick, and those people needed to be heard,” explains Dominik. “It was a bit of a process to talk Suzy [Cave’s wife] into being in the film, because she is a genuinely modest person. Their son Earl is young, but with Earl, I wanted him to participate in the making of the film.”

The film is shot in stark black and white. “Black and white is elegant,” says Dominik. “It allows you to see the world with new eyes, because we’re used to seeing it in colour and all of a sudden you can see everything again.” Using 3D, meanwhle, helped the filmmaker create a sense of intimacy. “So often 3D is associated with fantasy and science fiction, but for me it’s interesting to see someone in a car in 3D – when Nick is talking and you can feel his hands.”

The intimacy also extends to the filmmaking process, which is never hidden; we're always aware the cameras are there. “I have to include all that to get to the truth. We’re shooting people in actual situations as it's happening and in those situations there are seven people with a camera. To not acknowledge that would be bullshit.”

To capture the performances, the key for Dominik was simplicity. “It’s not all 100% planned, you just have to come up with a visual strategy. Nick doesn’t want to sing the song too many times; the early takes are going to be good. You have to come up with a way you can get it and get it quick, but also have it have some kind of visual relationship to the music. So I just find a simple idea.”

The film is also a way of protecting Cave from having to talk about the tragedy during the promotional tour. “It would be very difficult for him to sit down and answer questions like ‘How did you feel when your son died?’ And then do it again with the next journalist and the next. It would be awful. You couldn’t help but feel you were devaluing it.” Dominik believes that the process of making the film provided some comfort to the family. “The whole situation was moving and the film is just the ashes of the experience we had.”

The rain is now tipping it down. Dominik will now turn to his new project, the narrative feature Blonde about Marilyn Monroe, which is set to shoot in January. In breach of journalistic objectivity, I mention I’m a big fan of Cave and Dominik grins. “Yeah, mate, who isn’t?”

One More Time With Feeling is released in cinemas for one day only this Thursday (8 Sep) by Picturehouse Entertainment. Find the cinemas where it's playing here

Skeleton Tree by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds is out on vinyl, CD and download on 9 Sep via Bad Seed Ltd.