20,000 Days on Earth
2014, NR, 97 min. Directed by Iain Forsyth, Jane Pollard.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Oct. 3, 2014
You might think the inside of murder balladeer Nick Cave’s head would be a dismal place overflowing with violent death, insane religion, and loves lost, smothered, or, occasionally, disemboweled. And you’d be right, but only to a certain degree.
What’s great about this “documentary” – Cave gets a script credit alongside the directors, which kind of invalidates the whole notion of hands-off documentary filmmaking – is that it delves deeply into Cave’s notoriously fussy creative process without ever becoming stodgy or dull. It’s the exact opposite, in fact. Kith and kin to the likes of Leonard Cohen and his much-admired Nina Simone, Cave remains, at 57, a quietly explosive presence whether onstage or off, a duality that becomes apparent here as we’re offered access to the various creative stages, from notebook birth to demo recording to live performance of the title track from the 2013 Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds album Push the Sky Away. Directors Forsyth and Pollard employ a simulacrum of the singer-songwriter/screenwriter/novelist’s literal 20,000th day alive to capture the sum of the parts of the whole of Cave’s work and world in a remarkably fascinating and strangely accessible way. To wit, you don’t necessarily have to have an original vinyl copy of every LP by Cave’s seminal outfit the Birthday Party to dig (Lazarus, dig) this film.
It’s an oddly, perfectly dreamlike day for Cave, who narrates bits and bobs of his life as they flash across the screen kaleidoscopically. Australian-born but currently living in perpetually overcast Brighton, England, Cave goes about a supposedly ordinary day as various figures from his life pop in and out of his car. Among them are actor Ray Winstone (from the Cave-scripted, Aussie-Western bloodbath The Proposition); shaggy, longtime Bad Seed co-conspirator Warren Ellis; pop superstar Kylie Minogue (with whom Cave had his only commercial hit: 1996’s “Where the Wild Roses Grow”; and former Bad Seed Blixa Bargeld, of German industrial-music pioneers Einsturzende Neubauten. A few of the conversations Cave has with these backseat drivers about his art may come across as mundane, but each provides a dollop of illumination to the Cave we’re currently within. Even a visit to his psychiatrist is rife with occasionally humorous details of his otherwise seemingly grim history: ex-smackhead, bad dad, a childhood spent playing “chicken” with locomotives atop vertiginous trestles, etc.
Cave is married – his wife, Susie Bick, graces the cover of Push the Sky Away au naturel – with a pair of young boys. There’s a telling moment of the trio sitting on, one assumes, their living room couch, watching movies and eating pizza that speaks to the taming of the beast, but don’t be fooled: The end footage of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds stripping the very viscera out of the classic blues story-song “Stagger Lee” is call for near-grievous bodily harm in its sheer profane physicality and emotional concussions. Cave, the dark angel, open-collared, his visage wild and otherworldly, flapping mad onstage, is awash in not only violent, poetic imagery, but also a sort of gargantuan, audience-fueled ecstasy. (Cave’s live performance reminds you of a walking, shrieking Werner Herzog film, channeling everything from Klaus Kinski to the God of the Old Testament – all thunder, blood, and salvation sundered. 20,000 more days on Earth, if you please.