‘This Much I Know To Be True’ review: an engrossing and intimate portrait of Nick Cave

Andrew Dominik reunites with Cave and Warren Ellis for another definitive performance-meets-documentary gem

“I’ve retrained as a ceramicist, because it’s no longer viable to be a touring artist,” dryly delivers Nick Cave as he guides filmmaker Andrew Dominik through his terrifying lockdown workshop, which houses 18 majestically grotesque handmade models of the devil. Well, you didn’t expect him to go into cyber, did you?

It’s a surprising side of the vampiric Cave to see, but then he and Dominik go way back: the director actually dated the titular Deanna from the classic 1988 Bad Seeds anthem shortly after Cave. Many would struggle to find a more terrifying ex to have waiting in the wings, but the pair became close friends and later collaborators: Cave and his songwriting partner Warren Ellis penned the score for Dominik’s The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford in 2007.

Their working lives became a lot more personal when Dominik was asked to helm the 2016 documentary One More Time With Feeling, a devastating portrayal of Cave and his wife Susie dealing with the loss of their teenage son Arthur while the Bad Seeds were completing their 16th album ‘Skeleton Tree’. Tragically, we learned of the passing of another of Cave’s children – Jethro Lazenby, whom he shared with Beau Lazenby – this week, just days ahead of the new film’s release.

One More Time With Feeling was an immaculate and thoroughly human film, the likes of which we’ll probably never see again for quite obvious reasons. In its honesty and intimacy, it rendered any need for Cave to do press interviews completely obsolete – but his fans feel closer to him than ever, and exercises like this film are central to that.

At the core of This Much I Know To Be True are sumptuously-shot performances of choice tracks from the Bad Seeds’ ethereal ‘Ghosteen’ and Cave & Ellis’ lockdown revelation record ‘Carnage’, all filmed in breathtaking arthouse style in an abandoned factory in Bristol. A frail but still razor-sharp and utterly beguiling Marianne Faithfull also shows up to deliver a gorgeous spoken-word poem that is later warped by Ellis into a hypnotic backing track. For that live music element alone, this film is worth any Cave fan’s time – especially for the dark euphoria of ‘White Elephant’ and the fire-and-brimstone rave of ‘Hand Of God’ – but Dominik again gets close to show us the heart behind the art.

As well as Cave in his ceramics workshop, we see him tenderly catching up with his son Earl – the twin brother of the sadly departed Arthur and now a successful actor – who passes on some sage advice when his father complains about life on set: “Stop being such a pussy.” Nice. We also witness the meticulous and heartfelt manner in which he reads and responds to fan letters on his website The Red Hand Files, and get some great insight into his personal and working relationship with his musical partner Ellis (as well as the truly horrific state of the latter’s Mac desktop).

After showing us the real people behind the music, Dominik ends with Cave concluding that he’s now found peace and meaning in life through seeing himself more as a father, husband, friend and citizen who makes art, rather than just “a musician”. In that spirit, it makes for the perfect companion piece to the questions of trauma posed in One More Time With Feeling, as well as a welcome addition to the canon of cracking Nick Cave films (check out the reality-bending drama-doc 20,000 Days On Earth and the cinematic lockdown concert film Idiot Prayer as well).

“I think [with] the rock star, you gotta be able to see [them] from a distance,” Cave said in 20,000 Days on Earth. But when you get a little bit closer, you’ll find that they’re human just like the rest of us.

Details

  • Director: Andrew Dominik
  • Starring: Nick Cave, Warren Ellis
  • Release date: May 11 (in cinemas for one night only)
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