20000 Days On Earth (2014)
Directed by: Iain Forsyth, Jane Pollard
Written by: Iain Forsyth, Jane Pollard, Nick Cave
Starring: Blixa Bargeld, Darian Leader, Kylie Minogue, Nick Cave, Ray Winstone, Warren Ellis
Writer and musician Nick Cave marks his 20,000th Day on earth. We follow him as he visits a psychiatrist, has lunch with a friend, visits an archive of his life and travels around his adopted home town of Brighton.
20,000 Days On Earth is a difficult film to classify. From the outside it looks like a documentary about Nick Cave, investigating his life. However, this is not any normal documentary, as you might expect from someone like Cave. It is directed by two artists, Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard, and has a lot more artifice than any usual documentary. The film was set out with a script, telling of each scene but without any dialogue. Instead Cave and whoever else was in the scene would be given a theme or general instructions and they would then talk around that subject. All the interiors are sets, specifically created and decorated for the film. As such the film plays the line between truth and artifice, in that you are never really sure what is true and what isn’t. If you are looking for a comprehensive documentary on the life of Nick Cave then you won’t get it with his. Instead, the filmmakers strive for something else, to reach for themes and ideas which relate to us all and on that front they succeed. That is not to say you won’t hear some fun and interesting stories about Cave’s life. He is one of the writers credited on the film, and at points it does delve a little into his past, he does speak about his relationship with his father during his psychiatry session and speaks about his life as a young man when he visits the archives, but what we get most from the film is a sense of Nick Cave as a man. He speaks about his fears, the loss of his memory and thereby his whole sense of self, and he also talks about what music means to him and how it is his life. During a couple of sections in the film, Cave drives around Brighton talking to people from his past, Kylie Minogue, Ray Winstone and Blixa Bargeld. These sections are edited to make it feel like perhaps Cave is having a discussion with himself and the people in his car are representing different parts of himself and of his life and the natural conversations that happen in this manufactured set up again tell you about the man Cave is, what drives him and what goes on in his head.
What is interesting is the movie feels at its most real and intimate when Forsyth and Pollard are filming Cave and co-writer and band partner Warren Ellis, in the sessions for the last Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds album Push the Sky Away. We get an intimate look into their creative process and it is fun and interesting to see the working man behind the on stage persona. It is interesting to see his creative process play out naturally in front of you and the writing sessions are intriguing to a casual viewer as well as someone interested in Cave’s music and the process of creating music. It is fascinating to watch an enduring talent such as Cave’s play out on the screen. The film also includes some live concert footage which is thrilling to watch, especially for fans of Cave’s music. It is on stage that he is transformed from a human going about his business to a performing rock star, as he struts around on stage, throwing himself and reaching out to the audience who look up at him as if he were a God performing in front of them. Several of his fans are even brought to tears by his performance. A brilliant and interesting cut is made by Forsyth and Pollard as they cut from a performance of one of his new songs, to him watching a film and eating pizza on a sofa with his two sons before crashing back into a montage of concert footage over the years, juxtaposing Cave’s personas, the rock star and the father. The concert footage at the end of the film showcases the Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds electrifying performances and the talent of Cave as a front man and this footage gave me goosebumps.
The film is also very funny. Cave himself tells some very funny stories and he and Warren Ellis make a good comedy double act, their long standing friendship very obvious as you see the interaction between them. Ellis’s story about Nina Simone is one of the highlights of the film.
Ultimately, the film tackles Cave on an introspective level. His voiceover presents you with thoughts and ideas that can relate to anyone, the fears, doubts but ultimately optimism that can plague and rive any individual. Cave can from the outside seem like a foreboding person, usually looking like a rock star vampire, all dark suits, swept back black hair and sunglasses, but 20,000 Days on Earth in part takes apart the mythology surrounding him, instead positing him as the two personalities that make up the whole, the dark rock star and the driven human being, with a family, and his own neuroses and memories. Cave steps back to look at what has gotten him to this point and what it all means to him, and he and the directors, Pollard and Forsyth, leave you on an inspiring note.
Forsyth, Pollard and Cave have created an original, often very funny, moving, thrilling and ultimately inspiring film that transcends its potential confines as a documentary about a musician.