Film Review: One More Time With Feeling

I have anxiety.

If you know me personally, then that statement should come as no surprise to you at all. Or, if you don’t know me, but have ever read anything I’ve written for this site in the past—attempts at concert reviews, or my Southern Minnesota Scene column—then you know the extent that my anxiety runs.

My anxiety keeps me from going places; in the evening, specifically. And because of that, I missed all the opportunities to see One More Time With Feeling in a theatrical setting. Upon its release last fall, it was screened briefly in Minneapolis (always on Thursdays, always at 9 p.m.) and then again on a return engagement in December (same day of the week, same time.)

And it is my anxiety that preventing me from going. Because I couldn’t fathom being out that late on a work night or going to something by myself. So I passed, aware that at some point, like most movies, it would be available on DVD.

Much like its companion album Skeleton Tree, the documentary One More Time With Feeling is a stark meditation on grief and loss, and about how one handles trauma. Directed by Andrew Dominik (director of The Assassination of Jesse James by The Coward Robert Ford), the project follows Cave and The Bad Seeds throughout the recording of Skeleton Tree as well as Cave’s attempt to deal with the death of his son Arthur.

Filmed in almost entirely black and white, the project takes place primarily in the studio (giving it a relatively claustrophobic feeling), only leaving for a lengthy and somewhat uncomfortable interview with Cave and his bandmate/friend Warren Ellis that takes place in the back of a cab (this interview is inter spliced throughout), as well as conversations with Cave and his wife Susie in their home.

The death of Arthur Cave was incredibly public news, and Cave looked at this film project as a way to publicly deal with something that was private. For most people who are watching the film, they probably already understand its subject matter prior to the start; however, Dominik smartly structures it so that the death reveals itself slowly throughout the course of the film. You know there’s been a trauma, you know Cave is visibly upset and distraught, but just who has died isn’t shared until the film’s final third.

Part music video for almost every song on Skeleton Tree, part study in how one handles grief, Cave, despite the pain he is obviously in, is captivating to watch. He still tries to maintain a sense of humor, but you can also tell he is at a complete loss. He discusses openly in interviews with Dominik how Arthur’s death impacted his ability to be creative, and how making a very loose, imperfect album was the means to find it again.

He’s also incredibly poignant, both in candid interviews, as well as added narration and observations. Despite his pedigree as a successful musician and writer, Cave is still just a regular person, like you or me, and he is suffering, the same way you or I would suffer in this situation.

He recalls a situation in a bakery where someone tries to comfort him; he, more than once, talks about “kindness,” and how he needs to remember to be kind to others; he explains the elasticity of time and that, in this case, his son’s death is the beginning of a timeline that he continues to stretch away from, but will always be pulled back to it.

Cave also says this, which out of anything from the film, hit the closest to home for me: "Most of us don’t want to change, really. I mean, why should we? What we do want is sort of modifications on the original model. We keep on being ourselves, but just hopefully better versions of ourselves. But what happens when an event occurs that is so catastrophic, that you just change? You change from the known person to an unknown person. So that when you look at yourself in the mirror, do you recognize the person that you were, but the person inside the skin is a different person?"

Seven of the album’s eight songs are performed live in the studio in One More Time, and are obviously the most elaborately filmed, including moody lighting and complicated camera work. For those familiar with the album prior to watching the movie, these performance sequences give insight into the process of writing and recording the record, and in many cases, the version in the film differs ever so slightly from what was selected for Skeleton Tree.

One More Time With Feeling isn’t necessarily hard to watch, but it also isn’t easy to place yourself into Cave and his family’s pain. It’s not a feel good movie, or the kind of thing that you may feel up to watching multiple times.

A bulk of the film seemed to be shot in 3-D, and many of the screenings were offered in the 3-D format. A 3-D Blu-ray of the movie is available, however, I do not own a Blu-ray player, nor do I have a 3-D television; so I watched a standard, 2-D version of the film. I didn’t think that the format change would take away from the experience, and maybe it doesn’t really, but it seems like there were a lot of shots specifically composed for the 3-D camera, and as the film went on, it did seem like there was something that I was possibly missing out on.

One More Time isn’t exactly a “flawless” film, and I didn’t expect it to be. Skeleton Tree isn’t a flawless album, so why should its companion piece be any different? There is a moment with the movie buckles under its own weight and ambitions, and Dominik possibly loses sight of the project just slightly. It occurs near the end, during a performance/recording of the song “Distant Sky.” It’s the only portion of the movie filmed in color, and so that, alone, was jarring and a bit of a strange directorial choice. But during Else Torp’s portion of the song, the camera zooms in on her face, goes “through” her head and out the back, out of the building, and then pans up dramatically for a lengthy overhead shot that continues to pull out and back away from London, then eventually away from the Earth. It is supposed to be dramatic, and grand, I think, but it comes off a little too heavy handed and maudlin in its execution.

As a side note, also, there was a cringeworthy moment when Susie Cave visits her husband in the studio. She enters the building wearing what is revealed to be a fur coat. Cave instructs her to take it off because he’s concerned about the “animal rights people” once it’s caught on film. Both my wife and I were disappointed by this exchange, but the spouse of one of your favorite performers can’t be expected to care as much about animals (and animal rights) as you do.

For fans of Cave’s work, this intimate look into his personal life and his creative process is sure to please, and due to its nature, it is not the kind of thing that is out to win him any new fans. Beautifully filmed, it is a haunting and touching portrait of someone who has a larger than life persona—suddenly humanized—as he attempts to navigate his way through life in the wake of total loss.

One More Time With Feeling is available now in myriad formats.