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Music documentaries

Within the first few moments of One More Time with Feeling, I felt myself want to look at the friend who came with me to see it, and mouth the words “what’s happening?”, as we sat in the dark, watching Nick Cave uncomfortably follow direction from the filmmaker about re-doing a set-up shot and re-speaking words that were clearly difficult to get out in the first place, because they were working with fancy cameras no-one seemed entirely sure exactly how to use. It felt awkward because it was awkward – Cave was talking about his child’s death. Arthur, one of his twin sons, fell off a cliff in East Sussex in July 2015, after taking LSD for the first time. 
The filmmaker – Andrew Dominik (who’s made noir-ish crime films like Killing Them Softly and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford) clearly wanted the audience to go with the seemingly unvarnished start to the film – he is showing us he isn’t quite sure what was going to unfold, and neither are we, really. It represents something Cave says about the whole tragedy – that he hasn’t been able to distill it down into an easy-to-refer-to statement, a simple platitude, that he can pass on to others.  “People say, ‘he lives in your heart,’ ” Cave says, in one interview scene. “Well, yes, he is in my heart,” he says. “But he doesn’t live.” It’s a moment so stark in truth it’s uncomfortable to hear.
In the same way, the documentary does not offer a simple trajectory about what happened, how it affected Cave and what we, as the audience and fans of his music, are meant to now know about the musician and his work. Through a series of black and white footage shot inside the studio and outside, in Brighton, and interviews with Cave in his home and in a cab, Dominik brings the different aspects of this time in Cave’s life, to us, to try experience how the work continued for him, as it had to. He literally works through this – both the literal sense of making the album and dealing with the grief and sadness of the ‘trauma,’ as Cave refers to it, in his journal-like entries and matter-of-fact answers to questions posed to him. 
It’s haunting, sad, cathartic, beautiful, difficult, and ultimately a deeply moving way to experience Cave’s music. The music, the lyrics, wash over you in between the moments that Cave wanted to create as a way not to have to deal with questions from journalists while promoting the film. In the end, it’s a truly majestic accompaniment to the album.  I urge you to seek it out – preferably with a great sound system so you can truly appreciate the music as it was created.

I was walking on the Lower East Side the other night and a poster kept grabbing my attention, yet I wasn’t familiar with what I thought was the name of a band or a new album on it, so I carried on walking by. The following night, near Union Square, the same poster caught my eye.

Turns out there’s a reason it was calling me.

The poster was trying to tell me about a documentary that’s showing at the Lincoln Center as part of their Sound & Vision music doccie fest. Called Spier and Shield, it is directed by Petter Ringbom. The doccie had its world premiere at Hot Docs in Canada earlier this year, and has just shown at the Durban International Film Festival. It looks at South Africa’s 20 years of democracy milestone, through the eyes of its artists – particularly Brett Murray, who painted a caricatured image of SA president Jacob Zuma with his genitals exposed that led to a defamation lawsuit and sparked riots, Fofokpolisiekar, a rock outfit that has channelled the voice of a post-Apartheid Afrikaans youth, and the fashion crew The Smarteez, who featured in the music video for Solange’s Losing You.

The poster for the film is actually an outline of the controversial painting that Murray did called The Spear. But in the New York night-time light, it looked like the silhouette of a bear. Perhaps there’s something in that in itself, and how the issues the painting – and other works of art like it – provoke.

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Murray’s The Spear

Ringbom, who is from Sweden but lives in Brooklyn, also made The Russian Winter, a documentary about former Fugees member and Grammy-nominated artist Jon Forte travelling on a 9-week trip across the country, collaborating with artists there.

The Sound & Vision fest was created last year to showcase films that explore the music and art that has become a part of cultures from all over the world. This year’s lineup alone is as varied as featuring a Japanese trance didgeridoo player to looking at music created on 1980s video-game hardware. The opening night film is Beautiful Noise, which tells the story of how underground groups like Cocteau Twins, The Jesus and Mary Chain, My Bloody Valentine and others inspired the next generation of music, and the closing night film is Pulp, which debuted at SXSW with Jarvis Cocker in tow. Director Florian Habicht will be on hand here in NYC to talk about the British band’s final concert in their hometown of Sheffield, which he shot, together with vox pops of fans who attended.

[Pic: Xander Ferreira, aka Gazelle, in the Drakensberg mountains, by Petter Ringbom]

 Sound & Vision runs from 31st July to 6 August at the Film Society of Lincoln Center‘s Walter Reade Theater. Petter Ringbom will be doing a Q-and-A after his screening on the 5th.