Reviewed by GREG KING
Directors: Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard.
20,000 Days On Earth documents a fictitious day in the life of one Nick Cave, of Australia’s most iconic creative artists and one of the darlings of the alternative rock scene for over three decades. Directors Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard take an unusual approach with this informative and entertaining look at singer Nick Cave and his musical journey over the past thirty years.
Instead of the usual documentary format though, Forsyth and Pollard give us something of a hybrid that follows Cave over the course of one 24-hour period, and they offer up some insights into the events that have shaped him and the creative forces that shape his music. This is the first feature film from the pair, who are better known as visual artists, but they have collaborated with Cave on a number of projects and music videos over they years. There is obviously a great deal of trust between Cave and the filmmakers here, which was important given the impressionistic and largely improvised nature of much of the film.
But this film is neither the detailed career retrospective nor the concert film that most music documentaries tend to become. Instead of the usual, bland interview format, the pair use the device of having an analyst (played by real life psychoanalyst Darian Leader) probe Cave for some personal details that have helped shape his songwriting and his persona, including his relationship with his father who died while he was quite young, his drug taking, his religious beliefs, etc. Meanwhile an archivist trawls through old photographs and material to trace his musical journey. This is certainly a different an innovative approach, but it gives us a fascinating insight into his complex personality. Cave himself has a self-deprecating sense of humour that comes across strongly.
And there is also the device of having Cave driving in his car and holding conversations with the likes of actor Ray Winstone (who starred in the Cave penned film The Proposition); former Bad Seeds band mate Blixa Bargeld who explains why he left the band; and singer Kylie Minogue, with whom he performed the 1995 duet Where The Wild Roses Grow, which gave him a rare mainstream hit. There is a confessional tone to these conversations and these voices from his past tease out some more intimate details. And Cave has a long leisurely discussion with songwriting partner Warren Ellis.
The film explores not only the creative process, but themes of change, the passage of time, the fears and uncertainties of an artist. The opening sequence features a dazzling montage depicting the first 19,999 days of Cave’s life, brilliantly edited by Jonathon Amos, before settling into this leisurely exploration of the man and his influences. Cave offers up some poetic ruminations on his life while working on some new material. But there is plenty of music as well, as we see Cave working away at writing and recording some songs, and there is footage of Cave performing a lush version of Jubilee Street during a Bad Seeds concert at the iconic Sydney Opera House, accompanied by an orchestra and a children’s choir.
Fans of Nick Cave will certainly enjoy this unconventional documentary that weaves together an intricate narrative that explores the familiar mythology from a different perspective. But even those who, like me, are not fans of Cave, will find this film informative and entertaining, and will get something out of it.