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Nick_Cave_&_Warren_Ellis-credit Charlie Gray
Nick Cave and Warren EllisPhotography by Charlie Gray

This new documentary takes you inside Nick Cave’s creative process

Filmmaker Andrew Dominik discusses his intimate new film on the singer, This Much I Know to Be True – a study of love, loss and creative inspiration

After the death of his 15-year-old son in 2015, Nick Cave didn’t want to face the press for the release of his new album. The singer’s solution was to ask Andrew Dominik to shoot an all-encompassing documentary. Released in 2016, One More Time with Feeling was a sombre affair, entirely in black-and-white, that captured Cave, his family, and his bandmates still in shock. During a talking head, Cave questions why he’s baring his soul for a camera, and Dominik, off-screen, admits he’s also uncomfortable.

While Cave, then 59, frets in One More Time with Feeling that he’s ageing and decaying, he’s sprightly and energetic in Dominik’s follow-up documentary, This Much I Know to Be True. “We made One More Time with Feeling in the immediate aftermath and everyone was completely shattered,” Dominik, 54, tells me over Zoom from LA in April. “In this movie, it’s five years later, and the loss is completely integrated into his life. It’s possible to recover from a fucking disaster like that. Which I think is beautiful.”

In live performances, all shot without an audience, Cave sings from 2019’s Ghosteen (his seventeenth Bad Seeds album) and 2021’s Carnage (credited to Nick Cave and Warren Ellis). For songs such as the 14-minute epic “Hollywood”, Cave’s facial expressions are as gripping as an action sequence from Gravity – you can’t keep your eyes off a singer who pours his heart into every syllable and rising melody. Working with cinematographer Robbie Ryan (The Favourite, Marriage Story), Dominik plays with extravagant lighting effects, a circular dolly, and multiple aspect ratio shifts.

It is, then, made for theatres, and screening as a global cinema event on May 11. “The advantage a movie has is the intimacy,” Dominik explains. “Nick can get inside the song. The camera’s close to him. He’s singing these songs for the first time since he’s sung them on record, and discovering what they can be.”

Cave and Dominik, both Australian, met in 1986 through a mutual drug dealer and remained friends. Cave’s “Release the Bats” was in Dominik’s 2000 debut, Chopper; Cave then co-scored and had a cameo in Dominik’s 2007 western The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. During the pandemic, Cave even lived with Dominik for a few months in LA. “I’ve seen Nick in his tracksuits, but he’d be horrified if I ever showed someone a photo of that,” Dominik says, with a laugh. “When we go out to get a coffee, Nick dresses up like Nick Cave. He’s ‘Nick Cave’. But he’s also Nick.”

On earlier albums such as Murder Ballads, Cave would dive into storytelling mode, and then on his side-project Grinderman, he played a character-within-a-character (“Nick will sing about shit that nobody else will sing about,” Dominik jokes about “No Pussy Blues”). Despite some autobiographical details sneaked into prior lyrics (1988’s “Deanna” refers to someone Cave and Dominik both dated), Cave’s recent albums are his most overtly confessional. “Ghosteen is my favourite Nick Cave album,” Dominik says. “He has a career in his 60s because he’s constantly trying new things.”

Ellis – or “Woz”, as Dominik refers to him, much to Marianne Faithfull’s disgust in the film – is key to Cave’s shifting sound. “Warren spews this music out, and Nick reacts to it on the piano, then Warren reacts to Nick, who’s trying different lyrics out. It’s improvisation with months of preparation leading up to that moment.” On Ghosteen, Dominik is credited for “mixing”, which the director calls an overly generous gesture for some feedback he offered. “Warren’s told me I can join the Bad Seeds. I told him I can’t play an instrument or sing in tune, but he doesn’t think that’ll be a problem.”

On the flipside, Cave and Ellis have composed the music for Dominik’s next feature, Blonde, a fictionalised drama about Marilyn Monroe starring Ana de Armas. Dominik estimates it’ll be released in the fall. “Blonde is a movie for all the unloved children of the world. She’s an unwanted child who becomes the most wanted woman in the world, and isn’t able to cope with that.”

What do the world’s unloved children have to look forward to? Well, Blonde was deemed “beautiful” by Thierry Frémaux, who tried to premiere it at Cannes in 2021 and 2022. Netflix allegedly refused. Since then, Blonde has been subjected to rumours of outside interference, which Dominik denies. “I don’t cut out stuff that other people don’t like, if I like it,” he says. “I just don’t. That’s probably the reason I don’t work very often.

Blonde is my film. I haven’t gone back and redone it or reshot shit because the studio didn’t like it. Netflix have been pretty amazing.” The streamer did, however, bring in editor Jennifer Lame (Marriage Story, Hereditary). “From their point of view, they could see a more commercially acceptable film inside the film that I made. They hired somebody to see if they could realise this vision. But the person they hired had no interest in doing what they wanted to Blonde. They actually just liked Blonde, but thought the first few reels could be tightened. And they were right.”

I ask Dominik if he’s chilled out as he’s gotten older, or if he’s accepted the way the industry works. He counters, “I mean, on Jesse James, I had studio fucking hatchet men come in and cut the movie like a pair of pants. It was so fucking bad. Even the studio could see it was bad.”

To emphasise that Blonde wasn’t heavily reworked, Dominik proudly declares that he’s never done a pickup or reshoot. “I’m essentially a low-budget filmmaker. It doesn’t matter what film I’m making – I don’t have enough money to make it. So I have to be very efficient. Roger (Deakins) used to say about Stanley Kubrick, that they shot the opening duel of Barry Lyndon 90 times. 90 times! Any fucking idiot could make it work if they’ve got 90 cracks at it. It’d be great if you could go reshoot your bad bits. But generally what I have to do is work out how to make them into good bits.”

Despite a rapid five-day shoot, substantially more footage for This Much I Know to Be True exists: several songs and a cameo from Brad Pitt were cut. When I ask about working with a reluctant interviewee like Cave, Dominik reminds me that both films were the singer’s idea. “They asked me to do it! It’s not like I forced them into it!”

Dominik adds, “Nick saw that the first film had a positive effect on the world. It led to (Cave’s interactive website) The Red Hand Files. It led to a more authentic communication with his audience. He learned about the landscape of grief. Losing a child is an unusual thing in the modern world. It used to be pretty normal but it’s an unusual thing now. As we get older, we’re going to lose more and more, until we lose everything. There’s a way to do it responsibly, with love.”

This Much I Know to Be True will have a global cinema event on Wednesday May 11. Tickets can be purchased here.