Loosely based on Voltaire’s satire Candide, Peter Semple’s film Dandy hangs together around a selection of seemingly unconnected scenes featuring Nick Cave, Blixa Bargeld, Nina Hagen, Lene Lovich and Yello’s Dieter Meier. There’s no real story to speak of, rather:
...a floating dreamlike journey that meanders from Hamburg to Berlin, Madrid, New York and Tokyo to the Ganges river, the Himalayan mountains and on to Marrakesch and Cairo. It is a collage reflecting sensations that deal with religion, blues, art, the state of being lost … more of a wondering, a stumbling…
“It was an experimental film by an Australian/German director called Peter Semple who paid us large sums of money to sit in front of his camera and lay with a gun or a guitar. Me and Blixa were both involved in it. We were very poor at the time.”
Dealing with self-estrangement and, yes, lack of communication and love, Dandy is pregnant with heavy symbolism and simplistic allegories. Its recurrent metaphors consist of close-ups of a dead fish and a butterfly captured in a wine goblet. Drawing all too obvious analogies between the animalistic and human worlds, the image of the real butterfly is crosscut with a human butterfly, veteran Japanese performer Kazuo Ohno, who dances a Pas de Deux with his son Yoshito to the exquisite rendition of “City Called Heaven” by opera singer Jessye Norman.
Unfortunately, the continuous flow of inventive images and sounds is too often interrupted by a superfluous and unnecessary narration about nuclear, violence and torture. And as could be expected of such a film, there are brief philosophical assertions about the meaning of life and death and the dialectical relationship between art and life.
It’s all strangely compelling, though (unfortunately) it never actually goes anywhere. You will find Nick Cave covering The Moody Blues (as well as playing Russian roulette and showing-off his gun-slinging skills), Bargeld looking for directions and singing “Death is a Dandy on a Horse” (from which the film’s title comes), and an unaccompanied duet from Hagen and Lovitch.
Yesterday I blogged about an amazing music mix from ‘70s Sexploitation films. This cinematic compilation is a lovingly curated mixtape of soundtrack and spoken word work which includes Tom Waits, Nick Cave & Warren Ellis, John Cale, Neil Young, Sonic Youth and many others. From Fluid Radio on SoundCloud.
Nick Cave & Warren Ellis - The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007) by Andrew Dominik
Gilles Deleuze on cinema
Bernard Hermann - Taxi Driver (1976) by Martin Scorcese
Tom Waits & Crystal Gayle - One From The Heart (1982) by Francis Ford Coppola
Antoine Duhamel - Méditerranée (1963) by Jean-Daniel Pollet
Jonny Greenwood - Bodysong (2003) by Simon Pummell
Maya Deren on the creative process
John Zorn - In the Mirror of Maya Deren (2002) by Martina Kudlacek
Mihály Vig - Werckmeister Harmonies (2000) by Béla Tarr
Carmine Coppola - Apocalypse Now (1979) by Francis Ford Coppola
Mogwai - Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait (2004) by Douglas Gordon & Philippe Parreno
Tindersticks - Trouble Every Day (2000) by Claire Denis
Angelo Badalamenti - Twin Peaks (1990) by David Lynch
Arvo Pärt - Je Vous Salue Sarajevo (1995) by Jean-Luc Godard
Elysian Fields - Sombre (1998) by Philippe Grandrieux
Hilmar Hom Hilmarsson - In the Cut (2003) by Jane Campion
John Cale - Le Vent de la Nuit (1998) by Philippe Garrel
Neil Young - Dead Man (1995) by Jim Jarmusch
Ben Frost and Daniel Bjarnason - Solaris (1972-2012) by Andreï Tarkovski
Lech Jankowski - Institute Benjamenta (1995) by The Brothers Quay
Popol Vuh - Aguirre, der Zorn Gottes (1972) by Werner Herzog
Werner Herzog on the jungle
Sonic Youth - Pola X (1999) by Leos Carax
Danny Elfman & Elliot Smith - Good Will Hunting (1997) by Gus Van Sant
Nick Cave’s polite, yet firm 1996 letter to MTV event organizers following his nomination for “Best Male Artist” for that year’s MTV Music Awards.
21 Oct 96
To all those at MTV,
I would like to start by thanking you all for the support you have given me over recent years and I am both grateful and flattered by the nominations that I have received for Best Male Artist. The air play given to both the Kylie Minogue and P. J. Harvey duets from my latest album Murder Ballads has not gone unnoticed and has been greatly appreciated. So again my sincere thanks.
Having said that, I feel that it’s necessary for me to request that my nomination for best male artist be withdrawn and furthermore any awards or nominations for such awards that may arise in later years be presented to those who feel more comfortable with the competitive nature of these award ceremonies. I myself, do not. I have always been of the opinion that my music is unique and individual and exists beyond the realms inhabited by those who would reduce things to mere measuring. I am in competition with no-one.
My relationship with my muse is a delicate one at the best of times and I feel that it is my duty to protect her from influences that may offend her fragile nature.
She comes to me with the gift of song and in return I treat her with the respect I feel she deserves — in this case this means not subjecting her to the indignities of judgement and competition. My muse is not a horse and I am in no horse race and if indeed she was, still I would not harness her to this tumbrel — this bloody cart of severed heads and glittering prizes. My muse may spook! May bolt! May abandon me completely!
So once again, to the people at MTV, I appreciate the zeal and energy that was put behind my last record, I truly do and say thank you and again I say thank you but no…no thank you.
Marc Maron celebrated July 4 this year by releasing a lengthy podcast interview with Nick Cave, in which Cave informed Maron that Russell Crowe asked him to write the sequel to Crowe’s Oscar-winning 2000 movie Gladiator. Cave complied, delivering what sounds like a phantasmagorical and cosmological battle spanning all of human history since the days of Christ.
Cave’s intended title for the project was Christ Killer. Sadly, Crowe didn’t go for it.
Here’s a transcript of the section where they talk about the Gladiator 2 project. If you want to listen to it, you can find it here; the Crowe bits start exactly at the one-hour mark.
Maron: Do you know Russell Crowe?
Cave: I do know Russell, yeah. I know Russell really well.
Maron: You do? How’d that come about?
Cave: He read the script of The Proposition, which is a film I wrote with John Hillcoat which is an Australian western which he championed and was almost in but that didn’t work out. That didn’t work out, but eventually he rang me up and asked if I wanted to write Gladiator 2….
Maron: Of course! If you want that movie, who are you going to go to? Nick Cave is the guy!
Cave: Which, for someone who had only written one film script, it was quite an ask.
Maron: Did you do it?
Cave: I did, yeah.
Maron: And what happened with that script?
Cave: It didn’t make it.
Maron: What was the story for the second Gladiator?
Cave: Well, that’s where it all went wrong. Very briefly, it was, I’m like, “Hey, Russell, didn’t you die in Gladiator 1?” He’s going, “Yeah, you sort that out.” So, he [Maximus] goes down to purgatory and is sent down by the gods, who are dying in heaven because there’s this one god, there’s this Christ character, down on Earth who is gaining popularity and so the many gods are dying so they send Gladiator back to kill Christ and all his followers. This was already getting… I wanted to call it Christ Killer, and in the end you find out that the main guy was his son, so he has to kill his son and he’s tricked by the gods and all of this sort of stuff. So it ends with, he becomes this eternal warrior and it ends with this 20-minute war scene which follows all the wars in history, right up to Vietnam and all that sort of stuff and it was wild.
Maron: That sounds amazing!
Cave: It was a stone-cold masterpiece.
Maron: How did Russell Crowe react to that?
Cave: I said, “What did you think?” “Don’t like it, mate.” “What about the end?” “Don’t like it, mate.”
Maron: That’s great! Do you like that script?
Cave: I enjoyed writing it very much. I enjoyed writing it because I knew on every level that it was never going to get made.
Maron: Christ Killer: The Second Gladiator!
Cave: Let’s call it a popcorn dropper.
If you’d like to read the script, here it is. Below, Nick Cave gets his gladiator on, in John Hillcoat’s outrageous video for Grinderman’s “Heathen Child.”
One of the highlights of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’ current set list as they tour in support of their fine Push the Sky Away album, is the astonishing “Jubilee Street,” one of the best songs Cave and crew have ever done. It brought the fucking house down when I saw them in Los Angeles earlier this year.
But at the All Tomorrow’s Party show in Iceland recently, after some particularly frenzied dancing that would put men half his age to shame, the Black Crow King made a wrong step and fell off the stage. Hard. (This happens around the 8:40 mark. You’ll note what he’s singing as he drops: “I’m flying. Look at me now. I’m flying. Look at me now.” Whoops!)
But have no fear, no mere mortal he, Cave returns to the stage almost immediately and finishes the song with all the aplomb of a demonically possessed Jerry Lee Lewis. Christ, talk about a recovery! Even falling on his ass in public garners Nick Cave more cool points!
Nick Cave once suggested that, with The Boatman’s Call, he “was making a big heroic melodrama out of a bog-standard rejection”—the rejection, famously, being at the pink-and-chipped fingernails of PJ Harvey. Regardless, he succeeded in squeezing some fairly special songs out of that heartbreak, and some of them—“West Country Girl,” “Far From Me” and “People Ain’t No Good”—receive especially beautiful and intimate recitations in the course this 1999 lecture on songwriting, “The Secret Life of the Love Song,” written for the Vienna Poetry Festival and delivered on September 24th of that year:
To be invited to come here and teach, to lecture, to impart what knowledge I have collected about poetry, about song writing has left me with a whole host of conflicting feelings. The strongest, most insistent of these concerns my late father who was an English Literature teacher at the high school I attended back in Australia. I have very clear memories of being about twelve years old and sitting, as you are now, in a classroom or school hall, watching my father, who would be standing, up here, where I am standing, and thinking to myself, gloomily and miserably, for, in the main, I was a gloomy and miserable child, “It doesn´t really matter what I do with my life as long as I don´t end up like my father”. At forty years old it would appear that there is virtually no action I can take that does not draw me closer to him, that does not make me more like him. At forty years old I have become my father, and here I am, teaching.
The lecture itself, which provides no less than a truncated artistic autobiography along with Cave’s creative philosophy at the time, is very much a product of that occasionally rather humorless period of his work, but it’s still compelling stuff, and wonderfully read in Cave’s deeply sonorous, almost didgeridoo-esque speaking voice.
A gathering by accident, design and hair-spray: The Immaculate Consumptive was an all too brief collaboration (3 days, 3 gigs) between Lydia Lunch (gtr. voc.), Nick Cave (pn. voc.), J. G. Thirlwell (aka Clint Ruin, Foetus) (drm., sax., voc.) and Marc Almond (voc.)
The 4 musicians met in London—Lunch had been filming Like Dawn To Dust, with Vivienne Dick; while Cave had been collaborating with Thirlwell (on the track “Wings Off Flies” for the debut Bad Seeds album From Her To Eternity), and both had worked with Almond, who was resting from Soft Cell, and working on Marc and The Mambas.
The party traveled to New York, where they were followed and interviewed by the N.M.E. Lunch had a Halloween event organized for October 30th and 31st—though The Immaculate Consumptive’s first gig was actually in Washington, on October 27th, where Thirlwell broke the piano, and ended with 2 nights later with Cave seemingly bored by the chaos of proceedings.
This is some of the archival material of those 3 gloriously chaotic days together. The cable access interviewer is Merle Ginsberg, known to many of you from her role as a judge on RuPaul’s Drag Race.
The Immaculate Consumptive - “Love Amongst The Ruined”
The Immaculate Consumptive - “Misery Loves Company”
You know when you get fanatically obsessed by a certain song and you can play it over and over and over again, nonstop, on repeat? Well, in my case, you can add a couple of dozens “overs” to get a sense of how often I’ve recently played “Where the Wild Roses Grow,” the duet between Nick Cave and Kylie Minogue from his 1996 Murder Ballads album.
To say I’ve been playing the shit out of this song (and Murder Ballads, one of the best albums in Cave’s nearly unbroken string of musical masterpieces) for the past few days would be an understatement (just ask my wife!) but chances are that if you’ve read this far, it’s about to be stuck in your head, too.
Not to rhapsodize too much about something you can simply hit play and experience for yourself, although it’s Cave’s song and well, totally his thing, it’s Kylie who shines here. Dig how perfect her performance is. She hits it so hard and so flawlessly that you can only imagine the junkie prince of darkness jumping for joy in the recording studio when they laid this performance to tape.
He’s great, he’s Nick fucking Cave, of course, but it’s Kylie the astonishing who steals the show here. Her vocal performance as Cave’s victim sounds so pure and innocent that it gives me goosebumps. According to Cave, they did no more than three takes.Why mess with perfection?
First the stunning music video directed by Rocky Schenck. The imagery is based on the mid-19th century painting, “Ophelia” by Sir John Everett Millais, completed between 1851 and 1852. The painting depicts Hamlet‘s Ophelia singing in a river as she dies, and currently resides in the Tate Britain:
For her 2012 orchestral album, The Abbey Road Sessions, Minogue and Cave teamed up again to record this version of the song:
Hand-painted sneakers featuring Nick Cave and Bowie as Aladdin Sane by Finland-based artist, Erika Works.
It looks like she does custom orders, too. Someone in the comments inquired about a pair of Leonard Cohen shoes, and Erika Works said it would cost them around 40€ for the art (that does not include the price of the shoes, tho).
‘A good photograph,’ says Steve Gullick, ‘is one that looks great, one that captures an interesting moment in time, one that tells a story, or in the case of a portrait, offers an insight into the subject.’
This is could be a description of Gullick’s own photographs—his beautiful, inky black portraits that are amongst the most recognizable and iconic images of the past twenty years.
Gullick was influenced ‘Mainly by the dark imagery of Don McCullin and Bill Brandt. I tried to infuse my photos with a similar drama—I spent all of my spare time in the darkroom working on getting good.
‘It was more difficult with color but when I started printing my own color stuff in the late 1990’s I was able to match the intensity of my black & white work.
These photographs have captured succeeding generations of artists and musicians from Kurt Cobain, Nirvana, Nick Cave, Patti Smith, Depeche Mode, Foo Fighters, Bjork, The Prodigy, through to Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy and Richard Hawley
‘Photography is magic. The ability to capture something forever that looks interesting to you is magnificent.’
Now an exhibition of his work Punk as Fuck: Steve Gullick 90-93 is currently running at Indo, 133 Whitechapel Road, London, until 31st March, and is essential viewing for anyone with a serious interest in photography, music and art
To coincide with the exhibition, film-maker Joe Watson documented some of Steve’s preparation for the show, and interviewed him about the stories behind his photographs.
For more information about Punk as Fuck and a selection of Gullick’s brilliant work check his website.
It says there’s only 24 hours left that you can still watch the HD webcast of last night’s Nick Cave concert in Los Angeles but it’s probably closer to 12 hours at this point.
I was at the show at the Henry Fonda Theatre last night and WOW. I’ve seen Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds going back thirty years—fifteen times—and this was one of the best shows, ever, for sure.
The LA gig was notable for several reasons. They played their boss new album, Push the Sky Away all the way through. The pensive tension and release of the album’s running order, I thought translated exceptionally well to a concert hall set list. “Jubilee Street,” one of Cave’s best songs, well, since his last album, was a particular swaggering highlight.
The return of the great Barry Adamson to the Bad Seeds. Very cool. I actually did not know this was the case until he walked onstage. I’ve been listening to two of his albums a lot lately and I was quite happy about this.
The string section that accompanied the group and the children’s choir from Flea’s Silverlake Conservatory of Music giving the show a sort of “Nick Cave meets The Langley School Music Project” kinda feel. It worked brilliantly. Cave would turn to them—I’d say they numbered about 20—and ask “You ready kids?” and trust me they were. They sang their little hearts out. Who would have expected something so cute from a Nick Cave concert, but there you have it. (“The Ship Song” with the kids last night was a lovely, lovely moment).
A particularly amazing “From Her to Eternity,” throbbing like a motherfucker, where every instrument, including those in the string section, were basically played as percussion.
Cave was in great voice and he looked amazing, cutting a damned slim figure for a guy his age in a sharp black three-piece suit. The Bad Seeds are probably the greatest rock ensemble of this generation, honestly what more needs to be said of these gentlemen? Watch the video, it speaks for itself.
After a certain point, Cave thanked the children and they left the stage. Cue an absolutely monstrous second act that raised the fucking roof. It was almost as if Cave and the band felt they had to wait until the coast was clear before they pulled out all the stops. It’s probably a good thing they did, because the intensity of the latter part of the gig would have probably scared the shit out of their young collaborators.
The set ended with an encore of “Stagger Lee” that was so intense people were leaving the theater with stunned looks on their faces, like they’d just been brutalized. I felt positively giddy.
In any case, time’s a-runnin’ out on this one. The Bad Seeds will be touring America throughout March and April. Every single show is already sold out. You lucky people!
Thank you very, very kindly Iain Forsyth (who directed this webcast, btw)
Guest post by the great Mick Farren—an exclusive extract from his contribution to Mark Goodall’s Gathering of the Tribe: Music and Heavy Conscious Creation, a collection of essays on music and the occult, featuring contributions on The Fall, The Beatles, The Wu Tang Clan and more. Now available in paperback for the special price of $20.77.
Even the most cursory theological (or even Reichian) shakedown will reveal that rock’n’roll has quantum multiples of the potential mythic/mystic power ever commanded by conventional Satanism. Where so much of contemporary Satanism—with its upside down crosses, modified but still liturgical robes and rituals, its ammended litanies, the serving of a faux-Eucharist from the naked torso of an immobilized cooch dancer on bad acid (shout out, hey, Susan Atkins!)—reveals it as nothing nothing more than an inverted critique of Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular. (Much in the way that Marxism was essentially a critique of Victorian capitalism rather than a stand alone philosophy.)
Rock’n’roll, on the other hand, arrived on its own mythical half-shell and right away went about its own anarchic rites and wild communions. Jim Morrison, although decidedly from the death-star dark-side, and a fully accredited Agent of Chaos knew he didn’t need any contracts with Beelzebub. He was the Lizard King. He could do anything. The only deal he’d cut would be with Dionysius. John Lennon had stood in the power-eye of the rock’n’roll hurricane and knew what he was talking about when he made his famous “the Beatles are bigger than Jesus” remark.(That is, oddly, rarely quoted in full.)
Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink. I needn’t argue about that; I’m right and I’ll be proved right. We’re more popular than Jesus now; I don’t know which will go first—rock’n’roll or Christianity. Jesus was all right but his disciples were thick and ordinary. It’s them twisting it that ruins it for me.
A full decade before Lennon and Morrison, however, some of the preachers who railed against rock’n’roll showed an awareness this brand new back-beat-from-the-pit might not be an instrument of Satan at all but a whole new independent threat to the god-fearing. In April of 1956. Lutheran minister W. Carter Merbreier attended an Elvis Presley show in Philadelphia where he observed “nervous, giggling girls screaming, falling to their knees as if in prayer, flopping limply over seats, stretching rigidly, wriggling in a supreme effort of ecstasy.” A few months later Des Moines Baptist, the Rev. Carl Elgena, warned his congregation that “Elvis Presley is morally insane and leading other young people to the same end. The belief of unholy pleasure has sent the morals of our nation down to rock bottom and the crowning addition to this day’s corruption is Elvis Presleyism.”
The concept “Elvis Presleyism” brings us to Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’ album The Firstborn is Dead. In the opening song, “Tupelo”—a radical reworking of a John Lee Hooker classic—Cave makes the vividly dramatic suggestion that the birth of Elvis Presley, coupled with the death of stillborn twin, Jesse Garon, was the product of a supernatural, of not apocalyptic, event horizon.
The black rain come down
Water water everywhere
Where no bird can fly no fish can swim
Where no bird can fly no fish can swim
No fish can swim
Til The King is born in Tupelo!
Cave wrote ‘Tupelo’ in 1984, seven years after Presley’s death, when it was plain that many of Elvis Presley’s more obsessive fans maintained a personal relationship with their idol that was wholly akin to born-again Christians professing to have an exclusive one-on-one with Jesus. When the Reverends Merbreier and Elgena hinted, way back in 1956, that Elvis might be the dangerous pied piper of some form of neo-paganism, they had the protection of the pulpit. For a lay person to explore such a concept would have been to court accusations of being certifiably crazy or worse. Who in their right mind could seriously suggest that the Son of Gladys might be—in addition to all his other accomplishments—a 20th century fertility symbol inately desired by a frightened world, maybe even before the mushroom clouds had fully dissipated over Hiroshima and Nagasaki?
Humanity had developed the chain-reaction capacity for global-scale species-destruction, but had failed to evolve a philosophy to handle such hideous and overwhelming power. Couple that with plans for cookie-cutter totalitarian capitalism in one hemisphere with mirror-image Marxist repression in the other, plus new and tricky concepts like consumer uniformity and the pharmaceutical-brainwash tyranny of the psycho-civilized society (a major favorite of Sidney Gottlieb and the gang at MKULTRA), and a great many people—especially young people—wondered if they’d be better off back in the jungle for some animalism among the Old Gods.
Could the Elvis, the hillbilly cat, also be a Avalon mist-figure from an Arthurian Lord-of-the-Dance saga, or the myths of wounded Fisher Kings that stretched clear back to the megaliths of prehistory — and were so seriously and ironically invoked when Constantine and St. Augustine were mixing up Jesus Christ with Mithras to create the official deity of the Roman War Machine? Elvis the Fertility God may have also found himself cross fertilized by the horned and phallic, dark Legba divinities of Dahomey with their human sacrifices and Amazon girl soldiers, but, hell, isn’t that the just story of rock’n’roll?
If the pop culture of the mid-20th century was indeed a neo-pagan theocracy on the half shell, Marilyn Monroe could well have been drafted in as goddess-consort—although that might well cause a measure of temporal confusion that perhaps Jack Kennedy was the true Boy King from Camelot who actually took the hit. This would leave Elvis—who, by 1963, had been shorn and symbolically grunt-castrated as a conscript in what had formerly been George Patton’s Second Armored Division (Hell On Wheels)—as a much more esoteric entity.
But did anyone promise theology would be fast? Religions do not coagulate overnight. Christianity has had two full millenia on the game, plenty of time to work out its tortures, terrors, inquisitions, witchhunts, and multiple varieties of auto-da-fé. Rock—should it really prove to be a pagan belief system, or, more likely, a suspension of disbelief—has only been rolling for a tad over half a century, and, although it has exerted a profound effect on the culture of the times, its behaviour has been remarkably benign. It has provoked a number of peaceful mass gatherings, a few riots, only a very modest number of actual death cults, and made something of a junkie mess of the war in Vietnam.
Rock’n’roll has yet to pull any kind shit that stacks up against the Crusades or the Malleus Maleficarum. Although the second decade of the 21st century is hardly a halcyon time for paganism of any kind, and Evangelical Christianity—in the USA at least—is being allowed to get away with wholly unreasonable acts of fundamental stupidity. Route 66 runs now through a cruelly synched Bible Belt, and bands I don’t even care to name sell holy relics of what was once truly sacred. Perhaps some minor reformation might be about due, although the time is hardly ripe for burning corporate rock bands or even Simon Cowell in the cathedral square. At best we might reflect on Nick Cave and his speculations on what wonders might have attended the birth of Elvis Presley on January 8th, 1935, and wonder where they may take us.
In a clap-board shack with a roof of tin
Where the rain came down and leaked within
A young mother frozen on a concrete floor
With a bottle and a box and a cradle of straw
And Robert Johnson? Well hell, maybe he was taking about a wholly different devil.
The King will walk on Tupelo!
Tupelo-o-o! O Tupelo!
He carried the burden outa Tupelo!
Tupelo-o-o! Hey Tupelo! [Repeat]
You will reap just what you sow
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.