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Love in Bright Landscapes

Australian, Documentary, Review, Theatrical, This Week Leave a Comment

Subtitled “The story of David McComb of the Triffids” and made over thirteen years, this is one of the best music-related documentaries ever to come out of this country. It’s also, given McComb’s death at the age of 36, a very powerful and cumulatively moving one.

What we have is a veritable treasure trove: atmospheric archival material, home movies and photos from his childhood and beyond in Perth and rural W.A. … concert footage … readings from his poetry, letters and lyrics … More directly revelatory, of course, are the interviews with band members, friends, family and the like. What’s particularly refreshing in the context of this kind of film is that without exception they are highly intelligent and eloquent. All these  elements combine to form a rich portrait of someone whose creative vision was uncannily cohesive from a very early age. But no-one is quite so articulate here as McComb himself, whose literary influences were as seminal as the musical ones. He was consistently insightful and sharp, and often wittily sardonic – no surprise in the case of someone with such a lyrical gift.

And then of course there’s the music. Whether on extraordinary Triffids albums like – to name but three – In The Pines, Born Sandy Devotional and Calenture (with its cathedral-like grandeur), or in the Blackeyed Susans and his solo work, he was relentlessly driven and uncompromising – and it paid off in spades in the highly melodic, propulsive and frequently haunting and stylistically original songs. The Triffids were critically lauded – not least in Europe during their years there in the Eighties – and this doco shows why.

An absolutely superb testament to a unique talent, and a tragic loss. It’s hard to imagine any way that it could have been better.

In Sydney and Melbourne from May 5 and Canberra from May 12, 2022

Photo by Andrew Catlin
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This Much I Know To Be True

Documentary, Review, Theatrical, This Week Leave a Comment

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.

Book your tickets here.

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