Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, both born in the state of Victoria, Australia, have been playing together for more than fifteen years, with The Bad Seeds, Grinderman and Dirty Three. More recently, they've been collaborating on film scores for movies such as "The Proposition" (2005) and "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford" (2007) as well as Gisliörn Gardarsson's acrobatic theatrical productions of "Woyzeck" (2005), "Metamorphosis" (2006), and "The Road" (2009).
The Cave & Ellis collaboration began in earnest with the soundtrack for "The Proposition", much as the film itself sprang from director John Hillcoat's conviction that Nick could score a mean Western if he could only find the right script. Once the idea took hold, he supposed Nick might write the script too. Nick supposed, in turn, that Warren would recognise the note of impossible longing he sought for his story. Warren heard it alright: he heard the buzzing heat haze of the Australian outback as well, the tolling horizon and the tinkling presence of dread. His heat-shimmer samples and harsh, windblown, crow-lonely violin gave the images a searing immediacy: they give the story a timeless ring.
Film's prescriptive method, writing to order - although Cave and Ellis use loops rather than cues - cleared a new creative space.
In 2006, they began work on the soundtrack for Andrew Dominik's adaptation of Ron Hansen's The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. Although wide landscapes and brutal violence once again play a part in the drama, the main action is interior and almost entirely unspoken. Jesse is keenly aware of the danger foretold in the title but keeps his irksome enemy close. The music expresses his various awareness, his carelessness and his cruelty, his isolation and morbid sense of destiny. On Song for Jesse, a jingle bell rings like a fire alarm, a celeste plods wearily and a raindrop piano nags. Song for Bob is grievous with cello and violin but the strings' measured tread mourns neither Bob nor Jesse so much as the ageless weakness of men, their rage and their treachery.
By the time Dominik's film was released, Hillcoat was preparing his adaptation of The Road, Cormac McCarthy's story of a decrepit father and his guileless son struggling through the ruined landscape of global catastrophe. Cave and Ellis composed and recorded the score at the end of 2008 and the film is currently due for release later in 2009.
Cave & Ellis have also lent resonant dimension to a couple of startling documentaries. In 2007, they scored Geoffrey Smith's harrowing film The English Surgeon which traces Dr Henry Marsh's DIY struggle to bring modern neurosurgery to the confusion of post-Soviet Ukraine. The soundtrack amplifies the enterprising doctor's frustrations and anxieties, his practical genius and ethical dread. It implies cognitive dislocation, chemical imbalance and institutional apathy. It sighs and whines like the surgical instruments Dr Marsh shanghais from the NHS: 'Dandy Brain Cannula', 'Rat's Tooth Forceps' and 'Kerrison's Punch'. It inspires the film, even after the fact.
The Girls of Phnom Penh (2009) is Matthew Watson's second film about the consequences of Cambodia's "virginity trade". It describes the sorority of three young sex workers, Srey Leak, Me Nea and Cheata, as they struggle with their degradation and poverty. Humid loops, serrated cymbals and geysering steam stress the urgency of the girls' plight while, elsewhere, Nick's piano brims with compassion and Warren's soothing flutes curl with species regret.
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