the reigning Poet Lauriat of hard rock, Nick Cave was the perfect voice to
narrate Eddie White & Ari Gibson’s animated noir fable, The Cat Piano. He is also a screenwriter
of some note, whose credits include John Hillcoat’s Lawless. The standard talking head and archival footage approach simply
would not suffice for Cave, given his cinematic presence and relentlessly
idiosyncratic aesthetic sensibilities. However, Ian Forsyth & Jane Pollard (with the knowing collusion of their subject) took an entirely different tact
in 20,000 Days on Earth (trailer here), which opens this
Wednesday at Film Forum.
the filmmakers will follow Cave throughout what will be his 20,000 day of
terrestrial life, but they are not slavishly attached to the conceit.
Instead, they are content to follow Cave as he develops the next Bad Seeds
album and confronts some of the ghosts from his past in eccentrically stylized
dramatic interludes. Former Bad Seed Blixa Bargeld will reveal why he really
left the band, which would be a bit of a dramatic letdown, if it did not segue
into Cave’s somewhat neurotic theory of songwriting.
these sequences, 20K is more like
performance art than a documentary, providing a platform for Cave’s acting
chops when he essentially plays himself. Kylie Minogue also gets into the
spirit of things when her reminisces of their unlikely collaboration segue into
a meditation on mortality (from the back-seat of Cave’s car, bringing to mind
her strange appearance in Holy Motors).
It is also appealing to watch the musical camaraderie shared by Cave and Warren
Ellis, who clearly emerges as first among Bad Seeds not named Nick Cave.
is hard to say whether 20K is better
appreciated by Cave fanatics or newcomers arriving with a blank slate. This is
absolutely not a greatest hits package, somewhat focusing on the creation of
the Push the Sky Away album, but
mainly just giving Cave a venue for his insights into the music-making process.
Those who are interested in questions of method will find many of the sequences
fascinating. It should also bolster the reputation of strict Freudian Damian
Leader, who is not really Cave’s analyst, but elicits some vivid memories of
the singer’s late father.
20K is about as
multi-hyphenated as a hybrid documentary can get, but it keeps the stream of
interesting stories flowing unabated. Ironically, Ellis probably has the most
telling anecdote, suggesting the often violent spectacles that used to
accompany Bad Seeds gigs were nothing compared to the force that was Nina Simone (just try to top her).
Yet, it must be granted Cave is enormously
compelling appearing as himself, playing himself, or something like that.
Fittingly, he now lives in Brighton, where he could pass for a gangster from Brighton Rock with dark suits and
menacing swagger. It still seems to kill on stage and it works on camera
surprisingly well. Highly recommended for those who appreciate
meta-documentaries, 20,000 Days on Earth opens
this Wednesday (9/17) at New York’s Film Forum.
Labels: British Cinema, Documentary, Nick Cave