“Nick and Warren are both alike and completely different at the same time. There is a courage in facing the unknown, both in life and in a creative way, the will to put themselves in situations where they are vulnerable and the conviction in the strength of all this ». Words by Andrew Dominik, director who most of all preserves the form of the creative process of Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, narrated both in documentaries One More Time with Feeling And This Much I Know to Be True than in the processing for the original soundtrack of his films such as The murder of Jesse James at the hands of the coward Robert Ford and now, Blonde.
Nick’s sound vision, expanded by his trusted collaborator Warren, merges between divine and spirituality, as Darcey Steinke writes on Pioneer Works: “Like any sincere faith, Nick Cave’s theology is both fueled by doubt and constantly changing. His compositions, like the psalms, are not nihilistic, but act as a counterweight to the optimism of our culture, which denies the darkness that we are all called to face. In Cave’s music, darkness does not turn into light, but darkness is shared as if it were an act of trust with the listener ».
The stories they translate into a sonic image correspond to a film version of the parable that Cave has lived throughout his career, recounting, before and after the tragedies that have shattered his personal life, of our equal capacities for cruelty and love, and of the flickering chance of salvation in a brutal world. As analyzed by Nick Cave in a recent interview with New York Times: «The moral value of art is not based on what concerns art. The art I observe today is simply stating the morally obvious and is not, in my view, uplifting. Often it is barely worth watching. It is the thrust of good and evil that exists within it, a metaphor for our own life ».
From Sky over Berlinin which, through the musical performance of From Her to Eternityconnects to the angel Damiel, now more and more convinced in preferring human existence to the angelic one, Nick Cave adds to the Wenders masterpiece the sensation of making humans feel angels and angelics humans, showing himself as a sort of anti-angel “In black vest and blood red shirt”, as analyzed in the essay by Darcey Steinke already quoted: “The intention of the film, at this point, is not to alienate, but the music functions as a strident expression of earthly chaos, in stark contrast both with the angelic detachment that preceded him and with the discovery of a new transcendence in love that follows ”.
Element that we also find in The Road, an epic post-apocalyptic tale based on the novel by Cormac McCarthy, about the survival of a father and his young son traveling through a barren America destroyed by a mysterious cataclysm, guided only by the mutual love in which they place all hope; or in the figure of Jesse James, represented by Cave and Ellis as an ethereal, crepuscular figure in her detached solitude, ready to be betrayed by her gang member, Robert Ford. The fragility of human beings described musically by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis fluctuates under the weight of the world’s expectations, under the weight and responsibility of their own humanity or divinity, as in the case of Wim Wenders’ angels. «The story of suffering and rebirth is staged many and many times in the lives of all of us, but I believe that the most splendid way to capture it is the musical performance».
As Andrew Dominik points out, who carefully studied them while filming This Much I Know to Be True, “The most fascinating thing about Nick and Warren is the speed at which they work, and yet they often find themselves in a space where they can’t tell whether what they’re doing is good or not. And the way they move through that uncertainty brings them into a very fragile space, which they love to occupy and which must be carefully negotiated. “
For Warren Ellis, as told a The Quietus: «This is a large part of the processing of all the soundtracks we do. Nick and I need to feel like they have to stand alone – they’re not just incidental movie music. Many soundtracks can be very disappointing if, listening to them, there are only one or two songs that you remember that are actually good and the rest seem totally disconnected from the movie. Our music is made in a very different way, it is never closely linked to certain moments in the film, we don’t do 15 seconds of a certain type of music for a certain moment, they are always fully realized pieces. We end up with completed pieces that have a beginning, a center and an end ».
As explained by the journalist of the Guardian Marco Teague, their compositions for the cinema do not represent the strongly characterizing roar of The Bad Seeds, but a solemnity that crosses arid and bucolic landscapes, built around the skeletal piano of Cave and the restless thud of an orchestra moving under the Ellis’ raw, synthetic bow draw. In this regard, it is striking how the figure of Nick Cave has always been closely linked to the cinematographic and visual world. His contemplation and artistic research is expressed through images, as evidenced by the numerous objects collected for his personal review Stranger Than Kindnesssnapshots of his moments of life, «a dazed and uncontrollable superstructure that supports the song, the script or the score in his making», and his connection with the Seventh Art has developed in multiple guises both as a screenwriter and as an actor.
The author and producer of Peaky BlindersSteven Knight, said in a 2016 interview with Variety about the huge success of using Red Right Hand in the opening theme of the series that Nick Cave’s music «is unparalleled. The texts evoke our industrial landscape. The song adds so much poetry, magic and complexity to the series. There is an “outlaw” quality that seems absolutely appropriate to the context ».
A very interesting aspect that has always distinguished Nick Cave’s career is his contemplation for the figure of Elvis. Cave perceives the birth of Elvis as a messianic event; Tupelo’s hut becomes the setting for the announcement of the king of rock destined to sacrifice his life to the detriment of his image: “Elvis took away the burden of the world from Tupelo, ending up in sadness, loneliness and abandonment “. The sacred image of Elvis becomes a fundamental element for Nick Cave and Warren Ellis in analyzing the figure of Marilyn in Blonde, of which Andrew Dominik gives us a highly introspective image of the woman who hid behind the character of Marilyn: “A nightmare about a great actress in the role of the sacrificial lamb on the altar of celebrity” (from the review of the Guardian).
There is a shared opinion that both Elvis and Marilyn are so closely identified with American culture that the way they are represented speaks directly of America itself and its star system: “As presented in the newspapers, the alleged Elvis sightings they say something about American religion, Elvis’ quivering lip foreshadows the sensitive masculinity of the 1970s, and Marilyn’s vision as a sexual symbol reflects the limitations placed on American women. Thus, Marilyn exists as an icon that simultaneously represents the female victim, the sex goddess, the consumer, the consumed object, the innocence of the 1960s, the corruption of those same years, all according to one’s ideology ». So writes Sandy M. Fernandez on The Chronicle of Higher Education. Elvis and Marilyn, in his words, remain the archetypal male and female images of mid-century America, our collective psychosexual landscape, muses for three generations of actors, songwriters and artists, vehicles for delivering incisive critiques of the celebrity-obsessed culture that embody.
Both were the object of shared pleasure, sacrificing every part of their physical and mental body. Music intervenes as a celestial element to contrast the two souls of Norma Jean Baker, harmonizing their emotional register. Marilyn is just a role, and the music with her light contrasts the deep darkness ready to invade all the surrounding space forever. “Music could be something evil, evil and beautiful.”
Pearlya composition that begins the soundtrack, contains the darkness and purity inherent in the character of Marilyn, recalling as a sound matrix the alternation of movements present in the theme of The World Spincomposed by Angelo Badalamenti and performed by Julee Cruise in Twin Peaks. It is no coincidence that these two compositions live almost in symbiosis: for David Lynch the image of Marilyn Monroe perfectly represented the archetype to be associated with the figure of Laura Palmer, a pure soul engulfed and swallowed by the creeping chaos of evil.
«A movie star who becomes immortal» – so Lily Anolik defines Marilyn on Vanity Fair America – ‘but only by dying while she is still young and beautiful, before her promise is broken or our feelings about her can be resolved, leaving us wanting more, more, more. She is the angel of Los Angeles, the Angel of Death, and she will haunt us forever. “
Night owls of earthly and otherworldly life: these are the characters that most represent the sound sphere of Nick Cave and Warren Ellis. «Very often there is a tension between music and images that opens up new possibilities, and a kind of potentially incredible uncertainty. It is enough to put together two things made separately, music and film, and suddenly a kind of magic can be born ». Word of Nick Cave.