Page last updated at 08:29 GMT, Wednesday, 25 January 2006

Nick Cave ventures into the outback

By Damian Fowler
BBC News, Sundance

Nick Cave
Nick Cave wrote his film as a tribute to his country
Nick Cave is best known as a singer-songwriter but one of his latest projects sees him as a screenwriter, for the gritty Australian Western The Proposition, showing at the Sundance Film Festival.

Nick Cave has always had a flair for drama. For more than 20 years, the Australian singer-songwriter has been writing songs that manage to combine violence, melancholy and love into lyrical narratives.

And on the concert stage, Cave can be tender and terrifying all within the confines of one song.

So, it's not a surprise that the 48-year-old performer has managed to distil his brooding emotions into his latest writing venture, an Australian Western called The Proposition.

"I write narrative songs a lot of the time and I'm just at ease in my writing when I'm telling a story," he says.

"These types of moods, from my point of view, make for the most potent stories. They're dramatic. And that's what my music is, dramatic. Each song is a little drama."

Writing the script felt like writing a piece of music to me - the mathematics of it are the same
Nick Cave

The Proposition is certainly an adrenaline shot of drama. The film, which is being screened at this year's Sundance Film Festival in Utah, US has all the ingredients of a classic western - epic themes of conflict between law and outlaw, loyalty and betrayal.

Set in the Australian outback of the 1880s, it tells the story of a bounty hunter's dilemma: kill his violent older brother or see his younger one hanged. It's a bloody tale but it has a tender heart.

Screenwriting is definitely a digression for Nick Cave, a man who made his name in the early 1980s as a pioneering Goth rocker with his band The Birthday Party.

After the group disbanded Cave assembled The Bad Seeds, a post punk supergroup distinctive for its disturbing but highly literary songs of love, religion and death.

Over the last 20 years, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds have been relentless, producing nearly an album every year, from their debut From Her to Eternity to the dark romanticism of The Boatman's Call in 1997.

Perhaps Cave's masterpiece, on an earlier album, is a song called The Mercy Seat about a man on death row, which Johnny Cash later recorded.


Cave's most recent record, a double album in 2004, Abattoir Blues/Lyre of Orpheus runs the gamut from the cynical to the sanguine but has been described as a warmer album than some of the earlier offerings, tinged as it is with a gospel feel.

Guy Pearce in The Proposition
Guy Pearce stars in The Proposition

Cave's gift for narrative is intertwined with a strong musical sense. He also wrote the gorgeously haunting soundtrack to The Proposition. His musicality helped shape the story, he says.

"Writing the script felt like writing a piece of music to me - the mathematics of it are the same.

"The layering of something very quiet and sombre before something very violent comes in. The general rhythm of it all felt very much like writing a song".

The Proposition is Cave's second screenplay. In 1988, he wrote another film called Ghosts... of the Civil Dead, a big hit in Australia when it was released, likewise under the direction of John Hillcoat.

Around the same time, Cave also produced a book of lyrics, plays and prose and also, in 1989, a novel titled And the Ass Saw the Angel.

Cave says when he writes songs the process is very visual, and found writing the screenplay for The Proposition a joy. He wanted to capture the grandeur and the sadness of Australia's colonial past.

"It was written as a melancholy ode to my country. But it is punctuated by some short sharp bursts of violence."

Since writing The Proposition, Cave has also written another film, which he calls "an English seaside drama set in Brighton" - which is where he now lives.

Will this film finally be a departure from the dark side of Nick Cave's imagination? Probably not, he thinks.

As a songwriter Nick Cave has always been dependably Cavean. "I don't think I'm a chameleon," he insists, as he puffs on a rolled up cigarette.

"Very often the records that I'm putting out have nothing to do with what's fashionable at the moment.

"They seem to be very much out of step with things. And sometimes that can be to my advantage and a lot of times it can be to my disadvantage. I don't feel I'm thrown around by the winds of taste and fashion."

The Sundance Film Festival continues until 29 January.

The Proposition opens in the UK in March.

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