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Nick Cave 20,000 Days On Earth – film review

August 22, 2014


A life in a day.

Reviewed on Wednesday 6th August 2014

nick cave 20000 days on earth

Directed by Iain Forsyth & Jane Pollard. Written by Iain Forsyth, Jane Pollard & Nick Cave. Featuring: Nick Cave, Warren Ellis, Kylie Minogue, Ray Winstone and Blixa Bargeld. Running time: 97 mins.

A fictitious day in the life of writer/musician Nick Cave; less a straight bio on the artist’s life and more a stylized character study; 20,000 Days On Earth is much     more than just a great (sort of) documentary – it’s a brilliant film regardless of type.

Although best known in alternative music circles as a former Melbourne punk icon and later as the long-time frontman with his band The Bad Seeds, Cave interestingly views himself primarily as a writer – making little distinction between writing song lyrics or writing prose or writing film screenplays. Indeed, cinephiles may also know him by his collaborations with fellow Aussie John Hillcoat and his scripts for Hillcoat’s harrowing 1988 prison drama Ghosts … Of The Civil Dead (which Cave also appeared in and co-wrote and performed the score) and The Proposition, Hillcoat’s highly regarded 2006 outback western (which Cave once again supplied the score for, along with long-time musical collaborator Warren Ellis). Interestingly, Cave was also at one time hired by Ridley Scott to write a sequel to Gladiator which was ultimately left unproduced; which would have seen Russell Crowe return as a resurrected and immortal Maximus leading armies into battle down through the ages.

A long-time ex-pat now living in the English seaside town of Brighton (with his wife and twin sons), Cave ruminates on the past, his views on creativity and his one-time preoccupation with documenting the weather. During a psychotherapy session early on in the film, Cave delves into his carefree and happy childhood memories and reveals that his only significant fear in life is losing his memory – as he believes that it is memories which make us who we are as individuals. In a poignant twist while visiting his archives to identify some photos sent by his mother, Cave reveals he has very little recollection (presumably due to his substantial drug intake) of anything of his life in the 1980s. And later in the film the theme of memory again arises when Kylie Minogue joins him for an evening drive. Cave asks her what her own biggest fear in life is and she replies “Being forgotten and alone.” During this touching reunion Kylie also reflects on their only performance together; singing a duet with Cave on     the hit single ‘Where The Wild Roses Grow’ and the two discuss their shared admiration for INXS frontman Michael Hutchence (whom Kylie was dating at the time she recorded the song) – Cave revealing he always admired Michael’s on-stage confidence; to which Kylie reveals he was actually short-sighted – so much so in fact that he once wore his contact lenses to a gig just to see what the crowd looked like and was so overwhelmed by the sea of admirers – he never did so again.

This catch-up with Kylie is one of several dotted throughout the course of the day where, whilst driving to and from various appointments, Cave is joined by some of     his past collaborators and current friends who seem to magically appear in the car with him to impart their reflections and recollections on working with the man himself. In addition to Kylie, English actor Ray Winstone (who had a significant role in The Proposition) joins him to reflect upon fame and ageing and complain about the car heater – which Cave has set at 23 degrees – fogging up the windows, while former bandmate Blixa Bargeld reunites with Cave to reveal his reasons for leaving The Bad Seeds under what appear to be less than happy circumstances. During this catch-up Cave also reflects on his songwriting and reveals that if he has progressed at all in his writing ability since the band’s early days – it is in his desire to edit his material and keep his songs at a resonable length – as he now feels many of those early songs were less effective being as long as they were (a revelation which oddly appears to leave Blixa slightly miffed). Cave next visits his long-time Bad Seeds collaborator Warren Ellis at his rustic home overlooking the proverbial white cliffs of Dover; where Cave presents him (as requested) with two stuffed birds in a cage. Over a lunch of cooked eels, the two reflect on a past gig where jazz and blues icon Nina Simone supported the Bad Seeds and Ellis reveals he souvenired a wad of used chewing gum she had stuck to the piano – which he has kept to this day (safely wrapped inside a towel Simone had used to wipe the sweat from her brow). Aside from finding much to enjoy from the telling of these amusing anecdotes (Cave’s recollection of the time bandmember Roland S. Howard was urinated upon at a gig     in Berlin is also very funny), we also gain a rare insight into Cave’s creative process; where the key to songwriting, Cave reveals, is counterpoint: placing two disparate objects next to one another and seeing what happens. For instance you might have   a child, then introduce a Norwegian psychopath. And then a clown. And if nothing immediately comes to mind – you kill the clown. If there’s one surprising revelation     I took away from this portrait of Cave, it is realizing just how droll the guy is (difficult to fathom I know – considering the inherent darkness of much of his creative output). He’s not outwardly amusing, but he does possess a sly wit. He jokes that when he and his wife Suzie first met he was in a very bad way – going to church, addicted to heroin and she pleaded with him to stop his dangerous and self-destructive ways. So he did – “I stopped going to church.”

As one would expect, Cave’s music features prominently throughout the film (the incidental music again composed and performed by Cave and Ellis) with two Bad Seeds songs played in their entirety; once in the recording studio with the current line-up and later at a live reunion gig at the Sydney Opera House (which conspicuously includes Bad Seeds former member Barry Adamson on stage with the band). The gorgeous anamorphic cinematography by Eric Wilson (Submarine, The Double) lends the film a classy feature sheen not usually seen in digital era documentaries and while fans of Cave will no doubt rush out to see 20,000 Days On Earth, it is also     very much a film which will appeal to those who might be unfamiliar with the man     and his work.

4 stars out of 5

Star ratings: 1 – poor / 2 – below average / 3 – good / 4 – excellent / 5 – unmissable

Viewed at the Palace-Nova Eastend Cinemas, Adelaide, August 6th 2014.

Greg Moss is a film school graduate with a background in directing music videos     and is currently seeking representation as a screenwriter. He likes creative people, feeding the cat and watching genre movies. Greg can also be heard on the Blu-ray commentary track for the 1980 sci-fi thriller Saturn 3, out now from Scream Factory.


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