mon 04/03/2024

20,000 Days On Earth | reviews, news & interviews

20,000 Days On Earth

20,000 Days On Earth

Nick Cave's art is exposed in a playful, funny doc

The artist at work: Cave in his study (or is it?)

This excellent documentary considerably deepens the Nick Cave we know. If there is a Cave other than the spiritually and intellectually ravenous rock star with the raven hair, bone-dry wit and shamanic showman seen here, a bumbling secret identity behind the crafted persona, co-directors Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard don’t want to know.

The junkie punk whose bands The Birthday Party and the Bad Seeds once thrived on confrontation and chaos only has a walk-on part in this portrait of the artist who survived those white-knuckle, white-powder days.

Visual artists Forsyth and Pollard’s first feature film instead draws Cave’s creative instincts out into the light, by providing him with stimulating situations. Most arrestingly, he drives Kylie Minogue (pictured right, with Cave), Ray Winstone and ex-Bad Seed Blixa Bargeld along Brighton’s coast road, as each quizzes him from the back seat. Filming the singer’s free responses within such staged scenarios, surprising revelations result.

Very funny ones, too. Rummaging through the Nick Cave Archive, Cave turns lecturer (“Next slide, please”) to explain the sequence of photos showing just how the late Birthday Party bassist Tracy Pew punched a German fan who was pissing on him on-stage. Lunch with current right-hand Bad Seed Warren Ellis (an off-putting bowl of eels Cave picks at unhappily, in a house where Ellis does not, in fact, live) lets the singer relax even more. He’s the audience for once as Ellis (pictured, below right), with the Outback John the Baptist beard currently in Bad Seeds fashion, holds forth. The humorous intellectual enquiry which fuels the apparent darkness of the music pours out, as they trade anecdotes about a star of Cave’s London Meltdown festival, Nina Simone, whose growled demand for “cham-pagne, co-caine and sausages” was meekly met. Cave’s narration of what happened when she played, terrifying then transforming the audience, is the serious outcome of such excess. The power of performance to alter the performer and those watching is essential to Cave. A climactic scene of him rampaging through “Jubilee Street” at the Sydney Opera House, rhythmically intercut with other shows, puts you on the stage, in some of the most thrilling Bad Seeds footage you’ll see.

The staged nature of unprepared exchanges here makes you wonder quite what you’re seeing. The questions of psychoanalyst Darian Leader seem supercilious in a way Cave wouldn’t permit from a journalist; but he seems genuinely on the point of tears when the importance of his father’s death is probed. He is similarly disarmed by Kylie’s presence in the back of his car, and defenceless as Blixa Bargeld explains for the first time the musical boredom which made him leave the Bad Seeds.

One model for this film is Godard’s One Plus One (1968), which amongst other things showed the tediously haphazard recording of the Stones’ Beggars Banquet. The sessions for the Bad Seeds’ Push the Sky Away show contrasting sharpness, as music sometimes happens full-blown. This is also a great Brighton film, giving a neon noir sheen to Cave’s adopted hometown. Finally, its fun and feints help him explain the important part of himself: the work. As the camera pulls away from Cave into the dark of the English Channel, his ideas about the art he’s devoted to become unexpectedly moving.

Overleaf: watch the trailer for 20,000 Days on Earth

Cave turns lecturer to explain the photos showing how Birthday Party bassist Tracy Pew punched a German fan who was pissing on him


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

Share this article

Add comment


Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters