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‘Ghosts… Of The Civil Dead’: Nick Cave’s psychotic cameo in harrowing 1989 Aussie prison drama
02.12.2013
10:58 am

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Movies
Music

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Nick Cave
John Hillcoat


 
Last week I blogged about “Jubilee Street,” the new Nick Cave video directed by John Hillcoat (The Road, Lawless, The Proposition) and in that post I mentioned that Cave had appeared, in an extremely striking cameo role, in Hillcoate’s 1989 feature debut, the gripping prison drama Ghosts…Of The Civil Dead.

It’s a really amazing film, but one that is sadly little-known outside of Australia (and extreme Nick Cave fanboys—admittedly I saw Ghosts…, alone, at a midnight screening in NYC—I think it was the only one there was—back in 1989.)

Perhaps it is a misconception, but due to the worldwide popularity of films like Chopper and the classic camp TV of the 1980s women-in-prison soap opera Prisoner: Cell Block H,  I can be forgiven, I hope, for assuming that Australians, on the whole, are a bit obsessed with criminals, violent crime and incarceration. I guess it’s in their blood, so to speak. (I kid, I kid, Aussie readers! Please don’t kill me!) Loosely based on the life and writing of Jack Henry Abbott, the psychotic murderer turned literary protégé of Normain Mailer turned psychotic murderer once again, Ghosts… Of The Civil Dead features an ensemble cast of real-life ex-convicts, former prison guards and tough-looking motherfuckers they found in local Melbourne gyms. This film is realistic. Scary realistic.

Narrated by a (fictional) former prison guard, Ghosts… takes place deep in within the bowels of a maximum security prison, somewhere in the Australian outback. The place is an incessantly humming, fluorescent-lit nightmare. There has been a three-year lockdown that is still ongoing. The tension is palpable, the place is a claustrophobic, concrete Hell that no sunlight penetrates, a hatred and resentment-fueled timebomb waiting to go off.

As events transpire, the viewer begins to see that the prison authorities are actively trying to provoke the prison population, and that they are pitting the guards against the inmates, preying on both to escalate the violence in order to crack down on the prisoners ever harder and to justify building a fortress even more fearsome, inescapable and “secure.”

Ghosts… has layers of unexpected meaning. Although the script (co-written by Hillcoat, Cave, one-time Bad Seeds guitarist Hugo Race, Gene Conkie and producer Evan English) tells a reasonably straightforward tale of the prisoners—captive in a high security fortress that escape from seems impossible—versus the authorities who manipulate them into chaos, there’s a wider allegorical message of the power dynamic inherent in Western capitalism: Conform. Do exactly what we tell you to do, or there will be consequences. Like this high security Hell on Earth.

Michel Foucault would have most certainly approved of Ghosts…Of The Civil Dead, I should think.

Although contrary to the way Ghosts… was marketed, Nick Cave is onscreen for just a short appearance, but having said that, it is a cinematic moment of pure genius. Cave plays “Maynard,” a violent psychotic who paints with his own blood. Maynard is an absolute fucking lunatic deliberately brought in by the prison authorities to make an already bad situation much, much worse. His psychotic ranting and raving riles up the situation into complete murderous chaos. Although he is seen just briefly in the film, it is Cave’s Maynard who lights the bomb’s ever present fuse.

Ghosts… Of The Civil Dead is extraordinary film, as as bleak and as uncompromising a work of art as I have ever experienced. Unforgettable, really, but perhaps difficult for the squeamish to sit through. Once seen, it can never be forgotten.
 

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
NSFW Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds video for ‘Jubilee Street’ directed by John Hillcoat
02.04.2013
11:40 am

Topics:
Music

Tags:
Nick Cave
John Hillcoat


 
Nick Cave’s long association with Canadian/Aussie writer/director John Hillcoat (The Proposition, Lawless, The Road) dates back to when Hillcoate edited The Birthday Party’s “Nick The Stripper” video and Cave’s utterly unhinged performance in Hillcoat’s little-known 1988 prison drama Ghosts… of the Civil Dead. Cave went on to write the scripts for both The Proposition and Lawless, and Hillcoat has directed videos for The Bad Seeds and Grinderman.

Their latest collaboration is the NSFW promo video for “Jubilee Street,” featuring Sexy Beast tough guy, Ray Winstone.

You can pre-order the upcoming Bad Seeds album, the band’s fifteenth studio outing, Push the Sky Away at Amazon. It’s set to drop in two weeks, on February 19th. A limited edition CD/DVD comes cased in a hardbound book bound in linen with 32 stitched-in pages of specially created visuals by artists Iain Forysth & Jane Pollard.

Later this month, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds will be presenting Push the Sky Away in concert with the live accompaniment of strings and a choir at a series of already sold-out one-off shows in London, Paris, Berlin and Los Angeles.
 

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment