The south coast of England boasts one of the most vibrant and colourful cities in the country, full of life and excitement. In Brighton, everyone can be whoever they want to be with no judgment or reservations. All walks of life are welcome; it is an artistic place, an inspiring place. And on the beautiful coast lives a man, tall, with black hair and often clothes to suit. A mysterious man, a versatile writer, and a true visionary: Nick Cave.
Cave began very young in his musical life as part of the Australian band The Birthday Party, of which he was the lead singer and occasional saxophone player. The group quickly cultivated a reputation for themselves as the most violent band on earth, enticing a certain kind of crowd who wanted to experience the brutality and perversion that was often present in their music. Although this brought them popularity, it began to take away from the music; no longer were they a mere musical act, but a stage show which could cause mayhem. Ultimately The Birthday Party disbanded in 1983 due to a split between Nick Cave and Rowland S. Howard. Later that year a new band was formed, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, who still record music to this day. The Bad Seeds have recorded 21 albums since 1984, the music constantly evolving from post-punk to blues rock and back again, with a strong line in piano ballads.
The film world is often visited by Cave, both musically and in terms of scriptwriting. He has composed 33 film scores, some in association with fellow Bad Seed Warren Ellis. His music has been featured on 103 film soundtracks, including Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 (‘O Children’), Scream (‘Red Right Hand’) and Wings of Desire (‘The Carny’, ‘From Her to Eternity’). His eclectic music has been enlisted by filmmakers for an array of purposes. In Deathly Hallows for instance, ‘O Children’, with its choral qualities, creates intimacy and warmth during a troublesome time. In Scream, Cave’s voice carries its dread through the film, making all things feel catastrophic. In Wings of Desire there is an entire musical performance cut with other scenes, Cave again making the scene feel chaotic and apocalyptic, as his music so often sounds.
Cave has also been very successful in his composition of film scores, beginning in 1983 with Die Stadt – a very small German film he scored and appeared in while living in Berlin. His first major film score was fellow Australian John Hillcoat’s Ghosts… of the Civil Dead (1988), which Cave also co-wrote and starred in. This very early start in film writing and composing showed Cave’s versatility, proving himself a great writer no matter the form. Cave’s next musical collaboration with Hillcoat, on 1996’s To Have and to Hold, was particularly cinematic.
2005 saw the release of The Proposition, a hugely important step in Cave’s cinema career. Cave wrote the screenplay, making it the first film this occasional novelist wrote entirely by himself. Like much of Cave’s work, it’s a film that’s fatalistic – almost apocalyptic. The suffocating heat, filthy characters and impossible decisions make each moment feel bleak. The Proposition‘s score, written by Cave and Warren Ellis, felt like a Western with a modern edge – a style associated with the Bad Seeds. Cave and Ellis opted to use modern instruments as opposed to the style in which more traditional period films are scored, which adopt the sounds of the time. In 2007 Cave and Ellis kept with the Western theme and composed the score for Andrew Dominik’s The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. The soundscape matched the landscape; huge and sweeping, with a rough sense of poetry that Westerns often employ to romanticise the time. The delicacy of this soundtrack was fairly far-removed from the usual Cave sound – he and Ellis created something entirely new for Dominik. Cave made a cameo as ‘Bowery Saloon Singer’ singing ‘The Ballad of Jesse James’, a song that sympathised with James and shamed Ford, aggravating and upsetting him. The scene is packed with tension and remorse, a sense of unwinding and souring of the heroism that Ford once felt.
Cave’s next large film endeavour was Hillcoat’s Lawless, for which he wrote the screenplay, adapted from Matt Bondurant’s novel The Wettest Country in the World. Cave breathed life into a Depression-era crime film with a truly fiery breath; Lawless is nasty, full of terror and mythology. Cave has a fascination with God-like characters, things beyond the earthly realm, which here manifests in the indestructible Bondurant brothers. Forrest Bondurant (Tom Hardy) is subjected to one of the most uncomfortably violent scenes in recent film history in which he almost loses his head (in more than one sense), which is typical of Cave’s unflinching view on violence. He is a man who enjoys staring into the storm – one of the reasons to live on the coast of Brighton. He finds the savage weather inspiring. Again, Cave and Ellis worked on the score together. Capturing the country nature of the music was combined with some modern elements such as electric guitars, first made around 1931, to give it an extra pinch of attitude and grit.
2014 saw the release of a very important film in Cave’s portfolio, based on a very important moment in his life. As the title suggests, 20,000 Days on Earth followed Cave’s 20,000th day on the planet, and served as sort of biography of his life and mind. Directed by Ian Forsyth and Jane Pollard, the film follows Cave through every part of his day: waking up and brushing his teeth, recording music with his band, or attending the archives and reviewing its contents. These events give audiences insight into the fascinating mind and life of Nick Cave, this is furthered by the poetic narration in parts of the film, sharing his exact thoughts and feelings. Occasionally Cave converses with famous friends; including Ray Winstone, Kylie Minogue and Blixa Bargeld. These moments are made up of conversations which cover past interactions and periods in his life, offering a window into his past and further clues into his profession.
Some of the most startling moments in the film are when Cave is seen performing or writing, to see his creations in an embryonic stage makes the final productions even more staggering to experience. The segment of the film showing Cave and the Bad Seeds performing ‘Higgs Boson Blues’ is captivating and disturbing. The song is apocalyptic, deathly, and truly breathtaking. Watching the Bad Seeds create the music on a battered Fender Jazz Bass and Warren Ellis’ signature tenor guitar makes it all the more frightening, and all the more human. Cave sits at his piano, the words dripping from him as he watches over the Seeds with hawk eyes, channelling all the beautiful terror he can through his lyrics and performance.
Cave’s next milestone arrives tomorrow: on 8 September at 9pm, 650 venues worldwide will host a one-time screening of Cave’s latest documentary, One More Time with Feeling. Directed by Andrew Domink, with music by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds and narrated by Cave himself, you can expect an immensely emotional and intense journey. This will be the first opportunity to hear the new albums songs which is being released the day after on 9 September. Everything suggests that this film and album are going to be masterful.