Helpless is never a word that I would have thought to describe the Viking like, raw, rock star Nick Cave; however in the wake of the reflective documentary 20,000 Days on Earth, exploring his ‘now’ refracted through the fragments of his ‘then’, shows a person driven to create at whatever the cost. Filmmakers Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard attempt to frame Cave’s end state and join the dots to the influences that shaped his model of the world. There’s a quote early in the film that Cage likens the writing of a song (and I’ll paraphrase) to pitting two kind of polarised forces alongside each other and to wait for the electricity to start. I think that’s the method of this documentary.
The staging at face value is very ‘day in the life.’ We dive into Cave’s wake up routine, his work and a psychiatry appointment. It’s not clear whether it’s been used as a device to cut beneath the veil of the audience’s perception of the man or just his regular appointment. Nonetheless we join Cave as he must confront the emotions associated with his father’s death when Cave was 19, his darkest fears of losing his memories as they’re the very essence of who he is and finally his most resonant formative childhood experiences. This is one essential force.
Cage articulates to the audience in voice overs and in conversations that he only cherishes the past as intangible but the filmmakers commit a whole segment of the film, (much like his visit to the psychiatrist’s office) is to go to the Nick Cave archive in Melbourne and pore over the tokens of an entire swathe of time where his memories have been extinguished from drug use. Each item unlocks these sense memories and side steps into another segment of who he’s been on this journey. This is the second force. The two battling poles are at work in Cave’s perception of his own existence. He’s generating his own static reaction that continually powers this output.
Scenes featuring Cave driving a car shows a man in a perpetual state of motion. Forsyth and Pollard have Cave behind the wheel of his car for a lot of the connective moments between creating, performing and examining his family. He chauffeurs his guests /influential friends (including Ray Winstone and Kylie Minogue) so that he’ll only allow himself to revisit the past or earlier iterations of himself if he’s able to be moving toward another place in time.
20,000 Days on Earth, like its subject, is not content to be nostalgic, there’s barely any use of archival footage to flesh out the past with qualitative data. That tangible evidence is rendered opaque and unclear. As the culmination of the film centers on Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds only performance at the Sydney Opera House there’s a flurry of imagery echoing from his evolution. In these god like moments on stage Cave is exactly who he wants to be.
In his conversation with Minogue she confesses that she speed read his biography to get up to pace with him prior to their collaboration.. Cave sighs “Oh that old thing, it’s all lies…” That is how you feel exiting 20,000 Days on Earth; it’s autobiographical visual poetry. Candid in its confusion.
[rating=3] and a half
Blake Howard – follow Blake on Twitter here: @blakeisbatman and listen to legacy audio reviews on That Movie Show 2UE here or on top-rating film podcast Pod Save Our Screen, available now on iTunes.
Directed by: Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard
Written by: Nick Cave, Iain Forsyth, Jane Pollard