Directors: Jane Pollard, Iain Forsyth
Cast: Nick Cave, Kylie Minogue, Ray Winstone, Warren Ellis
Watch 20,000 Days On Earth online in the UK: TalkTalk TV Store / iTunes / Eircom / Virgin Movies / EE / TalkTalk
Gigantic-foreheaded Aussie warbler Nick Cave explores the songwriting process, the nature of performance and his own mortality in this self-indulgent but uniquely fascinating documentary. Well, we say “documentary”; it’s hard to actually pin down what this is. Part reportage, part drama, part concert film… the only thing you can say about 20,000 Days On Earth for sure is that it is – like its subject – quite odd, deliberately enigmatic but undeniably entertaining.
Cave worked with regular collaborators Jane Pollard and Iain Forsyth to present this bold and barmy look inside the mind of a rock star celebrating his 20,000th day on Earth. He feeds his neuroses, his narcissism and his passion into one end, and out the other comes a one-off experience: an imaginary day in the life of a man so terrified by the passage of time that he has to capture the process of analysing the past before he forgets what it means to be Nick Cave, aged 54 and three-quarters.
Cave is aided in his quest to examine his own fundament by cohort and fellow Bad Seed Warren Ellis, one-time musical collaborator Kylie Minogue, actor Ray Winstone – star of the Cave-scripted The Proposition – and a psychiatrist. It’s the latter to whom he opens up the most, in a carefully staged but completely unscripted interview, which sets the tone for the rest of the film: you’re never sure how much of what you’re seeing is Cave’s naked soul and how much is his rock star construct, sharply suited to hide the fragile ego beneath.
We watch as Cave wakes in his Brighton home, takes lunch with his friend Ellis, pootles about in his car having (possibly imaginary) conversations with Minogue and Winstone, records French schoolchildren singing for his new record and puts on an electric live show before returning home. He, Pollard and Forsyth use all these scenarios to connect various pieces of the jigsaw of “Nick Cave”: a character who’s desperate to be accepted, who uses performance as a way to forget himself, who may well have a Jesus complex. He even takes a literal delve into his past by visiting the Nick Cave Archive – a place that actually exists, but here is represented dramatically, as if it’s another cranny in his mental Cave cave.
Unafraid to appear pretentious and fully aware that you’ll never know how much of it is truth, 20,000 Days On Earth can be a little frustrating if taken at face value. But it’s groundbreaking filmmaking from an artist trying to pin down exactly what an artist is. The fact that he may as well be trying to nail soup to a wall only makes it more fun to watch.