20,000 Days on Earth

Aug 21, 2014

In this excellent doco, Australia’s high priest of indy rock, Nick Cave, comes across as an erudite pontificator, but with his tongue firmly in cheek.

Cave narrates as he motors around his adopted Brighton (England), at times sharing his ride with actor Ray Winstone, former Bad Seeds guitarist Blixa Bargeld (who seems to be morphing into Mike Myer’s Dieter character), and even one-time collaborator Kylie Minogue.

The idea is that the filmmakers are capturing Cave’s 20,000th day, and it works well as a rough concept. We begin with the musician waking next to his beautiful wife, and close with him in dad-like repose on the couch watching an arguably unsuitable film on TV with his twin boys (clue: Pacino). The ghostly appearance of Cave’s celebrity passengers is an obvious nod to Cave’s other career as a novelist, particularly his second novel, The Death of Bunny Munro.

Cave takes us through a potted history of his life and career. There’s much discussion (but only sparse video footage) of his earlier bands and the various incarnations of the Bad Seeds. Those hungry for concert footage will have to wait until deep in the film, but directors Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard build nicely to this.

We see Cave in a variety of settings, including recording and practice studios, going through his extensive archives with a curator, and speaking candidly with celebrity shrink Darian Leader. The picture that emerges is of a man who lives to write and perform, but is also a romantic soul acutely aware of the pragmatics of showbiz. Insights into religiosity and the art of capturing and mesmerising an audience are shared with us.

Multi-instrumentalist, violinist extraordinaire and fellow Aussie Warren Ellis (The Bad Seeds, The Dirty Three) is hilarious with his droll comments and a sweet voice at odds with his rough appearance. Their friendship is obvious as Ellis invites Cave into his rustic cottage (overlooking the White Cliffs of Dover), where he has cooked up a dubious-looking lunch that Cave politely nudges aside.

20,000 Days mines a rich vein of rock history, but it leaves plenty more to be unearthed about this enigmatic figure – a wealthy rock star who still thumps out his lyrics on a typewriter and quaintly pastes the pages into his exercise book.

Anyone who has seen Cave in full flight as he struts and commands the stage can testify to the intensity of his performances. This film allows us to see behind this finely crafted fire and brimstone act. It is an intimate look into the life of Cave as a personable man and a quintessentially professional musician.

Beautifully shot, imaginatively edited, and with a blistering soundtrack guided by Warren Ellis, this is a wonderful film.

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