20,000 Days On Earth **** (out of five)
Let’s face it, if you’re a Nick Cave fan you’re going to see 20,000 Days On Earth, the strange, melancholic, and terribly beautiful quasi-documentary from British duo Jane Pollard and Iain Forsyth. If you’re indifferent about Nick Cave you may still be fascinated by the construction of this fable-like creation, which tells the story of one day (the “20,000th day”) in the life of Cave as he runs errands only a rock star can run. If you don’t like Cave you won’t be seeing this film, which is just as well, because it’s wall-to-wall Cave.
We literally begin with Cave waking up, attending to his morning bathroom, dressing. We’re in his Brighton house, his wife is still asleep in his bed, and it’s as intimate as things get. Next we’re sitting in on an early-morning lyric writing session before getting into (presumably Cave’s actual) car and heading off into the rainy Brighton day, Nick dressed as is his wont, in a nice dark suit with a crisp white shirt, his long black hair slicked back. Refreshingly and comfortingly, he looks like no-one other than an ideal Nick Cave, the Nick Cave of your favourite album covers, the Nick Cave of your dreams.
Cave’s errands include lunch with collaborator Warren Ellis at Ellis’ house in Dover, rehearsals with Ellis in France (which is sort of folded into Brighton; we never get on a ferry or dip into any Chunnel) and a visit to Cave’s archive, which is entirely constructed and staged as a bunker-like cellar near the famous Brighton pier. Along the way a few famous travelling companions appear magically in Cave’s car and share the drive for awhile: Ray Winstone, who discusses ageing with Cave; Blixa Bargeld, whom Cave engages in a discussion about how one relates to one’s old songs; and Kylie Minogue, who brings out in Cave some terrific insights into his performance style.
These three conversations, for a Cave fan, or anyone who’s interested in the creative life (particularly of a rock and roll composer), are worth the admission alone. The conversation with Bargeld, in particular, is a jaw-droopingly fascinating look at how great musicians appreciate, and understand, their own work; Cave fans also will be pleased to learn from the Winstone discussion that Cave has no desire to re-invent himself or ever stop performing – the Cave we’ve always loved is the Cave that’s here to stay.
The day winds down with some performance, which is presented (with footage taken from two very disparate venues) in a way that is beautifully integrated with what has come before; rather than just getting some sort of climax, we get true artistic follow-through and a great and emotive catharsis. In this way the film follows the moods, tones and structure of some quintessential Cave songs; in this way it proves to be an astonishingly thoughtful, respectful, bold and intriguing piece of work. Let’s face it, if you’re a Cave fan, you’re going to love it.