If you had ever dreamed of hanging out with your favourite rock star all day, getting personal and even learning their most intimate revelations on the meaning of life, 20,000 Days On Earth will be the closest experience you will have, especially if your favourite rock star is Nick Cave.
Half imagined, half real – this part documentary and part drama film, follows musician and international icon Nick Cave on what would be his 20,000 day on earth. The film opens with a fast montage of photos of our subject from day 1 through to 19,999 and finishes with him waking up and carrying out a fictitious day of writing, driving around town, having lunch, recording music, performing on stage and then going for a late night walk to the beach. What makes this film a pseudo-documentary is that we are invited into Cave’s artistic space and inner thoughts which are interwoven with unscripted conversations and live footage – creating the film’s authentic focus throughout this imagined day.
Directed by Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard, who both have fine art backgrounds, took a very artistic and innovative approach to make this film. Working closely with Cave (who co-wrote the script with them) they came up with the idea for the film based on Cave’s notebooks combined with footage of Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds as they made their Push The Sky Away album. Together with Cave’s narration, they have created a lyrical dream-like film that is very beautiful to watch. The end result centers in on Cave’s creative process, his thoughts on transformation, memory and mortality. And while it is a fictitious day that is played out for us, the themes and stream of consciousness are real, and makes this cerebral film powerful and inventive.
Cave talks mostly of how he uses a memory and mythologizes it, taking the ordinary and turning it into something magical and holding on to the moment where you don’t fully understand it, and how he channels this into his songwriting. This running commentary can sometimes be difficult to process, but I had a feeling I was listening to something beautiful trying to be explained in a creative language I wasn’t fluent in. And while I did get lost in the translation, Cave’s voice is deep and beautiful and being washed over with it wasn’t so bad.
There were breaks where from the narration where we can re-focus on the day. These are the fantasy car rides he takes with guests who pop up like ghosts which were unscripted. Passengers are British actor Ray Winstone (who starred with Cave in The Proposition), musician Blixa Bargeld (a former band member of Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds) and singer and actress Kylie Minogue (who sang Where the Wild Roses Grow with Cave – his most successful single to date). But my favourite part of the film was when he had a relaxed lunch with Warren Ellis (Seeds band member and musical composer) chewing on squid and bread and chatting about an artists ability to transform on stage (retelling a very funny Nina Simone story featuring ‘champagne, cocaine and sausages’).
Although it does have a few winks of self mockery – the film can not help but be indulgent. I wonder as we can see the dirt under Cave’s nails on the steering wheel, if the back stage pass we have been given is offering too much of him. It is wonderful to know that Cave had kept a diary of the weather while living in the UK, but finding the need to open it up and search for meaning is a bit tiring and steadily takes the magic of the mystic away. Moments like this, where the film hovers between revealing and too many inner musings is a bit like hearing every detail about someone else’s dream they had the night before, not that interesting nor necessary. The session with the psychiatrist and then the visit to the archives to look through photographs are the main culprits and I felt like they should have chosen one to keep in the film, but not both.
One this is certain, Nick Cave is really good at being Nick Cave. If you are expecting to see an expose of Cave or anything other than this rock star persona, you won’t. He is very confident and almost too confident to be anyone else. His bigger-than-life creation of himself never seems to fit in any of the camera shots (except a farewell shot on the beach) and as we watch his fingers dance in the air – like he’s literally looking for the right words to express himself – we are only being shown what we already know. I couldn’t help but crave something a bit more pedestrian (especially at the opportunity to sit in to a therapy session), but considering what the directors set out to accomplish it would have been a massive compromise to the films integrity to add a little Entertainment Tonight flair.
20,000 Days on Earth is a visually gifted film that’s thought provoking and gorgeous to experience. It’s a rare day trip that dips it’s toes in what it’s like to think like Nick Cave and what he does to bring his creativity to life. But if you wanted to really get to know Nick Cave beyond his persona, this is not that sort of movie. You may have had to speed read through his biography (like Kylie Minogue did) to find out who he really is.
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