Before I start to discuss 20,000 Days on Earth, I must disclose my Nick Cave fanboy status. From the very first listen he provoked a very teenage level of devotion and hero worship from me. I own all of his records, have read all of his books and bought far too many of his t-shirts. I am gay for Cave and only Cave.
Even though I usually beat down and block out THE HYPE when it comes to, well just about anything, I couldn’t help but create my own psychological whirlpool of excitement. He is, after all, a meticulous artist in whichever medium he is working in. And with Cave stating that he was not interested in doing the standard rock doc and was only involved because he was intrigued by the proposal by the film-makers (Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard) to do a fictional account of a day in his life, how could I not be excited?
Being the Cave fan that I am, I can trace the general parabola of his life: where he was born, the tragic and unexpected death of his father, his views on drugs and his travels around the world etc. I even have his address and have broken into his house and stood, wearing his clothes and watching him and his wife sleep, cranking. Just cranking. These milestones were covered before something far more rewarding begins to unfurl.
The film starts with Cave in bed, we lie with him and share his thoughts as he contemplates the day, his hair is immaculate and he is already half dressed when he rises. This sets the template for the film, even in this intimate moment of waking we only really see Nick Cave in the way we already know him, an artist, thinker and rock star.
We do learn new things about the man during ‘20,000 Days on Earth’, and through his conversations with Warren Ellis, Kylie Minogue and psychiatrist Darian Leader we glean details about his world view and motivations.
His conversations with Ray Winstone particularly interested me; their seemingly throwaway comments about a shared concern over whether they would be remembered really surprised me. I know that the desire for immortality and failing that, a legacy or record of our existence is a fundamental human drive, but it’s also rather stupid and ultimately, folly. So I was interested that such an intelligent and evidently self-aware person could dwell on such futility… but then again he might be lying!
The interactions with Warren Ellis, his long time bandmate in the Bad Seeds and Grinderman are rewarding and very funny, Ellis serves his friend lunch and they discuss the idiosyncrasies of Nina Simone and Jerry Lee Lewis. The film segues into their song building and we tag along for the evolution of Higgs Boson Blues, which climaxes in a powerful live performance. These moments with Ellis are incredibly funny and encompass some of the film’s most heartfelt moments.
On top of being musically and intellectually stimulating ‘20,000 Days on Earth’ is also visually arresting. The opening montage of Cave’s previous days on earth, the appearances of Kylie, Winstone and Blixa Bargeld are as much manifestations of his memory and subconscious as they are passengers in his car. These moments alongside the visit to his archive and the snapshots of live performance make the whole thing seem like a trip through Nick Cave’s inner self. But not the real Nick Cave, the Nick Cave that he wants to be and the Nick Cave we want to see.
20,000 Days On Earth is in UK cinemas now