A review by John Knowles

Let’s face it we all love a secret gig, one that slips under the radar, one that not everyone is privy to, and on Sunday we were sat just two rows away from Nick Cave at a Q&A following a showing of his film ‘The Proposition’ at The Duke of York’s Picturehouse in Brighton: an event to support the work of CINECITY, The Brighton Film Festival. I’d like to pretend that I’m just one of those people with his finger on the pulse, but in truth, my friend Rachel Mount is the woman who knows what’s happening in the world. Still… two rows back!!

The Proposition was released fifteen years ago and Nick Cave both wrote the screenplay and scored the soundtrack, with long term working partner Warren Ellis. This is a gritty, bloody, harsh ‘apocalyptic’ view of the 1880s in Australia, where the brutalisation of man is echoed in his brutal small towns and an environment which is both epic and beautiful (especially in this film) and also unforgiving. If you are interested in the story then I’d beg The Electric Palace to put it on!

‘’Bloody and uncomp-romising, Hillcoat’s film pictures the outback as a place of extreme cruelty and beauty, while strong performances from all the cast do justice to the elegance of Cave’s script.’’ picturehouse.com

One of the questions raised at the end of the film was, where is the morality in the tale? This is an uneasy movie, the bad guys are not wholly bad, but when they are they are animals, the good guys are flawed in the extreme and are only legitimised in their ‘goodness’ by wearing a uniform, a stinking rag of a uniform, held together with sweat, flies and hatred. A hatred of the Blacks, the New Law, the Place, other men, each other. This is a film which is a true Australian Western – not a Western pasted onto Australia – it is sticky, sweaty, bloody and glorious.

Nick Cave has been on the road for sometime now with an ‘In Conversation’ tour, a chance to hear Nick play songs solo on a piano and to ask him, well, anything. You can tell that fielding sometimes highly left-field questions has given him a quiet confidence to just be Nick Cave. If he doesn’t know the answer to a question he won’t answer and if two words will do, then they’ll do. Admittedly this was a pretty tame audience with hardly anything to stretch Cave, but we learnt along the way: working with Russel Crow… “well he’s a big man”, how following the recent fires in Australia he feels a sense of the homesick, how beauty in darkness has long been a theme and how he blames Leonard Cohen (who doesn’t?). 

As well as talking about the score for the film and the script, Nick also talked about his relationship with Ray Winstone (another ‘complex’ man) and how you don’t really direct John Hurt (holding up his hands as if in supplication, “It’s John Hurt”). Also, Nick Cave hates acting himself, “Boring and hard work”. Talking about recently being H.G. Wells in a film he said “I told them, I don’t look like him, that’s okay, I don’t sound like him, that’s fine, you can’t touch the hair!’’ And the hair is, as always, perfect. Nick appears on stage in his customary dark suit, white shirt and with hair slicked back. He breathes a quiet ease with himself and us that is almost enchanting.

Now here I confess, I was slightly nervous during the Q&A as my autistic son Robin (known locally for the B-Movie season at The Electric Palace Cinema) is not shy about asking questions, but can, shall we say, stray from the topic at hand. So when he whispered “Can I ask a question?” to me, my internal elevator of unquiet dropped a few floors…and he was off, luckily this time on point and to the point: “Was there a link in this film to Apocalypse Now?”. Nick hesitated slightly then said “Yeah, yeah… well spotted” and doing so pointed a finger at Robin, like one of the guns in his picture, smoking! Nice one Robin, and thank you Nick.

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