Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Film review: 20,000 DAYS ON EARTH

Directed by Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard


I remember now. It all came back. Despite the brief conversation with Blixa Bargeld, “Higgs Boson Blues” could have a million verses for all I care. And then Brighton, of course. Seven Sisters. I guess there will always be a part of me that will think Brighton is my favourite British city. The time spent there, in the warm chill of early January, expecting rain and then not expecting it, with Nick Cave’s latest songs playing in my head. “Brighton sky”, says Cave, “is unlike anything I’ve ever seen”. This is something you would have to take for granted.

However, the nostalgic feeling should not fool you. One of the greatest things about this Nick Cave documentary is that it doesn’t try to be nostalgic. Even if Cave does speak at the very beginning of 20,000 Days On Earth about how much he cares for the past. Past is a way to go forward and sometimes a memory means more than a person who caused it.

We start with Cave waking up in the morning and end with him standing on the beach, night gathering around him and then swallowing the lanky silhouette into the sparse sounds of Cave’s last album. And in between there is a day in the life of an artist. His 20,000th day on Earth. We go through his creative process, his archives (the only time when Mick Harvey is mentioned) and even some of his anxieties. At just a little over 90 minutes, this is like the best sexual experience: unforgettable and seductively brief.

20,000 Days On Earth is a robust, inventive documentary with never a dull moment. We hear Cave say smart, vaguely philosophical things (which, crucially, always make sense); we see him chat with Warren Ellis (fantastic chemistry); we even see him during an unlikely psychiatric session (the story about Cave’s father reading to him Lolita at the age of 19 is particularly priceless). Then there are brief forays into his archives full of rare pictures, locks of female hair bought at some Berlin flea market and more amazing stories about Tracy Pew and some lonely guy Chris who lived in Germany and was mad on erotica. And there is even time for a full take on “Higgs Boson Blues” which sounds raw yet somehow fully realised. Like the documentary itself.

Great presence, great charisma, and a rare chance to look behind the stage flamboyance (Kylie Minogue describes him as a big tree in the storm – which sounds apt and even manages to soften Nick Cave’s perpetual frown). He is concerned about not being able to reach out to that one guy in the last row (come on, Nick). And he is defiant but very much aware of his age. What if the memory goes? What if it all goes?.. And like a 12-year old fanboy he is bedazzled by some Nina Simone performance he once saw. It’s the transformative power of the artist who should always be able to impress and to intimidate. Does he still have it? He feels confident yet the idea is heavily on his mind. 

And then there are parts where Cave just talks about his wife Susie (who barely appears), God and the sacred process of writing songs. Nick Cave is a man with a vision, and in the end it’s this vision that ties the documentary together and makes it not just a film about inspiration but a deeply inspirational experience in its own right. The memories of Brighton are my own powerful testimony to that.

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