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The Proposition


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This sounds obscenely good


Three years ago, Nick Cave received an intriguing request from Russell Crowe. The actor wanted him to write a draft screenplay for Gladiator II. Although Cave found the writing process "hugely enjoyable", Crowe and director Ridley Scott decided they had better look elsewhere.


"Luckily, it was so completely unacceptable they didn't even ask me to do rewrites," says Cave, with a kind of amused pride. "It wasn't makeable." Why not? "I wanted to write an anti-war film and use Gladiator as a raging war machine. He died in the first one so he comes back as the eternal warrior. It ended up in Vietnam and the Pentagon." He shrugs his spindly shoulders. "It was just this really wacked-out script."


Sadly we do not live in a world where a Hollywood studio is willing to risk a multi-million dollar franchise on the wilder imaginings of a moonlighting songwriter, but at least one of Cave's scripts has made it to the screen, a savagely brilliant outback drama called The Proposition.

Director John Hillcoat had been planning an Australian western since he first met Cave in Melbourne in 1979. The two worked together on Hillcoat's 1988 prison drama, Ghosts ... of the Civil Dead, and agreed that whenever the western was ready, Cave would provide the soundtrack. Five years ago, Hillcoat still hadn't found the right script so he asked Cave to have a crack. "I think that was a desperate measure and neither of us knew whether I was capable," Cave admits. He intended to produce just an outline, to be fleshed out by a professional screenwriter, but ended up writing the whole thing in three weeks.


"It was really exciting just to be one cog in the machine. I had no responsibility for the whole thing. It wasn't my film, it was John's film. I still feel like that actually. Although I have to come and do the f***ing interviews." He flashes an only-kidding grin.


Many journalists seeking an audience with Cave over the years have found him writhing with unease or, in some cases, outright hostility, but not today. Perhaps the novelty of not carrying an entire project on his shoulders explains his relaxed good humour. Like Leonard Cohen, he does not take himself as seriously as some of his admirers imagine. "It's an Australian thing to be dismissive. We find that endearing. Americans don't. They believe what you say."


Cave has always given the impression of being born into the wrong era. Today, in the bright, white offices of The Proposition's publicists, he looks like something dreamed up by Edgar Allan Poe. His spidery limbs are clad in a black velvet suit and his lip sprouts a drooping moustache of the kind last witnessed on the biker from the Village People. When he reaches into his pocket, you half expect him to draw out a pearl-handled revolver but, no, it's only a packet of rolling tobacco.


Set in the outback of the 1880s, The Proposition is as unforgivingly brutal a piece of work as you'd expect from a man whose back catalogue has a higher body count than a Peckinpah boxset; his biggest hit, Where the Wild Roses Grow (1996), was a duet with Kylie Minogue about stoving her head in with a rock. The titular proposition is put by lawman Captain Stanley (Ray Winstone) to outlaw Charlie Burns (Guy Pearce): find and kill his psychotic older brother or his younger one will be put to death. As harsh and severe as the landscape surrounding it, The Proposition revisits the big themes that have enthralled Cave for almost 30 years: loyalty, betrayal, justice, revenge.


"I feel at around 18 or 19 my interests were formed in some way. They're pretty much the same to this day; you just have to find different ways to articulate it. There are times when I think I really need to write some other sort of stuff. For example, I think maybe I'll try to write a record like Astral Weeks, much more subtle, but I find it difficult to change."


As a boy, Cave was fascinated by Australia's outlaw anti-hero Ned Kelly - he grew up in Wangaratta, Victoria, one town along from where Kelly was famously captured - but he's drawn more to myth than to history. He never got around to reading the piles of historical research Hillcoat sent him.


He thinks nobody has made an Australian western before because of the country's ambivalent attitude towards its own beginnings. "It's something that Australians haven't come to terms with it all - whether we see it as a heroic adventure or near-genocide. We have a much more complex view of it than I think the average American does, where you've got your good guys and your bad guys. In The Proposition, there aren't real heroes and there aren't real villains. It's really a film about failure." Even Australia's geography, he thinks, is a metaphor for denial. "We kind of cling to the edges of the country and build our houses facing out to the sea. We don't want to know about that huge, vast, mysterious, terrifying expanse that is the middle of Australia."


Cave has not lived in Australia since 1980. Like many young Australians, he left to see the world; unlike most, he never returned. He says his profile is much higher there and that would make life difficult. Also, "there's an ambivalent attitude towards people like me. They don't really like people who get too big for their boots."


So he lives with his partner, ex-model Susie Bick, and their five-year-old twins, Earl and Arthur, in Brighton, where he is spotted in Toys R Us or in the pages of the Brighton & Hove Argus, holding forth on plans for regenerating the ruined west pier.


It is a far cry from the days when the editor of the NME accused Cave of "promoting evil". He arrived from Australia trailing a whiff of sulphur, the dark melodrama of his lyrics mirrored in the wildness of his daily life. He took heroin, on and off, for 20 years. Until his first time in rehab in 1988, he existed in a state of productive chaos, fiercely prolific even at his worst; he was once spotted on the London Underground writing a letter using a hypodermic filled with his own blood.


During this turbulent period, he attempted his first screenplay, Swampland, about an outcast mute pursued by a lynch mob in America's deep south. He had no idea how to construct one - "it was just this f***ing mess" - so he turned the story into a novel instead. And the Ass Saw the Angel, which was favourably compared to William Faulkner and sold 100,000 copies, took five years to complete.


"I think the whole creative process probably saved me going completely down the toilet. Because I was doing something creative and positive and not just destructive. But at the time it never occurred to me that what I was doing in regard to drugs was self-destructive. That wasn't the intention." So what was the intention? He chuckles drily. "I don't know what the intention was."


Cave finally gave up heroin when he met Bick seven years ago but he is refreshingly averse to the repentant-sinner cliches so beloved of rock's reformed addicts. "What I'm resistant to is the Walk the Line biopic, where you have this redemptive life done in two hours. It just doesn't wash with me. I've been there and things don't work out that way. People think just because you stop drinking or stop taking drugs you become a good person. That's absolute bulls***."


Does he think of himself as a good person? "I don't know. I do what I consider to be the right thing. Whether it is or not I don't really know. Umm . . ." Cave often pauses while he hunts for the right word to complete a thought; sometimes it remains elusive and the pause dissolves into an unapologetic shrug. "I don't even know what these words mean particularly - good and evil. I never went around trying to be an evil person."


His moral code has, however, sometimes had an unbending, eye-for-an-eye quality. In 1986 he reacted to an unfavourable review by Mat Snow, an NME journalist and erstwhile friend, by recording one of the most toxic character assassinations in rock. He called it Scum. "Yeah, I've got a mind like a steel trap," he says, smiling ruefully. "It's an unfortunate aspect of my character but if someone says something negative about me it's in there for ever. I can still remember the offending sentence. Mat Snow suggested our second Bad Seeds album 'lacked the dramatic tension of the first'. And I was so enraged by this that I wrote Scum. But," he adds in mitigation, "there was a sense of humour about it as well."


These days Cave is milder and the critics kinder. The raddled junkie that many people didn't think would live to see 30 is now nearing 50 and ranked alongside such singular talents as Leonard Cohen and Tom Waits. He is also something of a Renaissance man - screenwriter, novelist, public speaker - but he could never imagine giving up music. Writing songs, he says, is more painful than anything else and therefore more rewarding.


I wonder if he feels like an actor when he's performing songs as theatrical as The Mercy Seat or God Is in the House. "No, I don't, actually. It's more like the other way around. When I'm not singing the songs, I feel like I'm acting and trying to work out how I'm supposed to be. But on stage I feel this overwhelming sense of being that person I always wished I could be."


Unlike songs, screenplays are a piece of cake. He has written another one for Hillcoat - "an English seaside sex romp", set in Brighton. "It uses really contemporary language, as far as I can tell what contemporary language is."


He doesn't want to belittle film-making but he regards cinema as pure entertainment and is cheerfully undiscerning in his viewing. "I find it the one art form where I don't have to think. I love being manipulated by what I see. I love weepies and romantic comedies where you're reaching for the Kleenex at the right moment." But even he has his limits. As a father of twins, he has had quite enough of animated fish and boy wizards. "I have a particular dislike for children's films," he says wearily. "I'm way past the novelty aspect."


So he's not interested in searching for his inner child? Another dusty crackle of mirth. "No, I'm still searching for the inner adult."


· The Proposition is released on March 10. The soundtrack, by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, is released on Mute Records on March 6.

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This sounds obscenely good

· The Proposition is released on March 10. The soundtrack, by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, is released on Mute Records on March 6.

Any body know if that is the comic book writer Warren Ellis?.


Also, didn't Nick Cave write/co wrote a film which had Michael Hutchins starring in it, a musicle "Kids in Space " or summat. Can't find 'owt on web :hmm: Had a song in it with lyrics something like, "And the sound of her name sends a ting-erling shiver down my spiiiiiiiiiIIIIIIiiiiiiiiiiine".

Anyway what I am trying to say is, I am sure its not the first film he has a had a part in writing.

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dogs in space........s*** film


if this stops him making further "music" can only be a good thing


Yep thats the one. If I wrote/spelt Michael Hutchence properly in IMDB and Tinternet searches I would probably find the droid I am looking for!. Film weren't great but had couple of cracking songs in it. Hutchence wrote aload of the music as well as starred in it, and Nick Cave gets a big thanks and mention, but not what for.

Loved some of Caves stuff (Original Badseeds) like "The Singer", but he can get a bit tiresome at times.

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