For someone with only a passing and nominal familiarity with the music of Nick Cave (such as this reviewer), Andrew Dominik’s This Much I Know To Be True is as immersive and hypnotising an experience as you could expect, and then some. For his ardent fans, it will be nothing short of indispensable viewing — a crucial contribution to an undeniably impressive career. No matter your musical tastes, this is a film that will cause you to lament the fact that no one has made a concert movie like this about your favourite artist.
To an uninitiated listener, Cave’s inimitable style takes some time to assimilate. His lyrics ramble in a pseudo-improvisatory manner, unconcerned with meter and rhyme. So, too, do his melodies — sometimes, the line between his speech and singing becomes indistinguishable. The accompaniment, be it string quartet, backing vocals, Cave’s sparse pianistic stylings or the electronic soundscapes of Warren Ellis, remains both subservient and matched by a deliberate randomness.
This is the context for appreciating the depth of Dominik’s achievement here — the film is an unerring partnership between visuals and sound. When Cave’s stream-of-consciousness prose is in full flight, Dominik (The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, for which Cave and Ellis provided the soundtrack) is unafraid to reflect this in unbroken close-ups and agonisingly slow tracking shots. Where the atmosphere becomes more agitated or urgent through Ellis’ sure-footed arrangements and electronic manipulation, the camera literally circles the musicians, almost whipping them up into a maelstrom, accompanied by unapologetically blinding lights. Where Cave and Ellis go, Dominik follows, in every sense of the word.
Strewn throughout the concert of songs from their last two studio albums (‘Ghosteen’ and ‘Carnage’) are a series of windows into their creative process. Some, like the prologue unpacking Cave’s recent turn as a ceramicist, are useful and poignant insights into this enigmatic artist. Others more literally delve into their unique collaborative partnership, and Dominik deftly calibrates the exact balance required between showing the results of their intense initial improvisation without labouring the point and robbing it of its magic.
Too often, music documentaries and concert films present their subjects through a cloying and emotional lens, sometimes trying too desperately to reframe our impression of them. Think whatever you like about the music of Nick Cave — the man is presented here with such honesty and sincerity that it becomes very difficult not to like him. And once you start to feel that way about the man, the music is not far behind.