Idiot Prayer takes its name from a song on Cave’s 1997 album The Boatman’s Call, one of many albums he dips into for the 90-minute, pared-back performance. The recording, which will only screen once and can not be fast-forwarded, rewound or paused, is also the final film in a trilogy consisting of 20,000 Days On Earth and One More Time With Feeling. “We created something very strange and very beautiful that spoke into this uncertain moment, but was in no way bowed by it,” Cave said in a note on his website.
Ryan, 50, said the film was made with health precautions and social distancing measures in place including masks, tape measures, thermometers and hand sanitiser.
“I was doing a Kylie Minogue video just the other day and we all had to wear masks, it’s part of the new normal,” the Dubliner said. “I don’t feel great after wearing a mask all day but if masks give us a bit more freedom, so be it.”
Ryan, who had not previously worked with Cave, said the musician was deeply invested in the performance and it was reflected in much of the footage his crew shot during one intense day of filming.
“Nick is an absolute gentleman and that makes a huge difference. He’s also somebody who’s really straight down the line, so I had a lot of fun working with him and I hope this is successful, this little thing we did,” Ryan said.
“Everybody knows about him … that he’s amazing and so magnetic but I’d not seen him live before. I hope the film does show a little bit of what that experience feels like, when you see him live.”
“It’s honest and the honesty comes acrosss. I’m really into that with my filmmaking …
The key decisions about how best to capture Cave’s magnetism for those viewing the concert at home revolved around lighting and the reinterpretation of songs for piano alone.
“The music is so emotional,” Ryan said. “We only had two cameras and Nick, at an early stage, told me he wanted it fairly simple. He had a lighting reference in mind from a previous gig … and he got chatting with a director friend of his, John Hillcoat, who had some lighting ideas. We tried to give a different feel to different songs and there’s powerful moments, like when he plays Jubilee Street or The Mercy Seat, that for me, really stand out.”
After his Conversations with Nick Cave series, which combined an intimate Q&A audience experience with songs, Cave said the emphasis of this performance was on “the delivery of the words” and that he felt he was “rediscovering the songs all over again” after many years.
“He’s quite a unique guy,” Ryan said. “This sort of thing takes initiative and Nick is really smart in what he’s done, his approach, his music … it’s honest and the honesty comes across. I’m really into that with my filmmaking and this, while it’s not exactly a live gig, it will have resonance.”
Idiot Prayer: Nick Cave Alone at Alexandra Palace will screen on July 23. Visit Dice for tickets and further information.
Martin Boulton is EG Editor at The Age and Shortlist Editor at the Sydney Morning Herald