The unspoken truth that true music connoisseurs are secretly aware of is that the person on stage isn’t real. How could they be? Nobody so inherently embodies the image that a musician projects. No-one is as cool, edgy or sexy as the character who performs for us. As this truth pertains to the new pseudo-documentary 20,000 Days on Earth it is evident that no-one is as naturally theatrical as Nick Cave; not even Nick Cave himself.
20,000 Days on Earth is not your standard music film: Part documentation of Bad Seeds recording sessions, part narrative deconstruction of the creative process via Cave’s inner monologue over the course of a single day. 20,000 Days is not quite a meditation on its themes as it is a dialogue. Indeed all of the Days discussions were improvised in pre-determined locations with loose topics to instigate conversation between Cave and a variety of companions including former collaborators such as Ray Winstone and Kylie Minogue, current partner in crime Warren Ellis or simply a psycho-analyst entirely foreign to Cave prior to shooting. Each interaction buzzes with its own unique energy, its own torrent of emotion and its own level of comfort. Each participant in these abstract engagements open up a new side to both Cave and the process from which he functions on an artistic scale.
To direct 20,000 Days on Earth solely towards music fans would be underselling it’s brilliance. This is a movie for anyone interested in art, in how art is born and nurtured, about how creativity evolves and all of it’s nuances and lessons can be applied to any process of expression. Cave’s dry monologue permeates with an obtuse nature that broils with depth and humour in equal measure, showcasing his talent not just as a musician but as a writer. As much as Cave proves a fascinating figure (without whom this feature could not exist) a heavy focus on the Bad Seeds recordings of their latest album Push the Sky Away will prove to be the point of most contention. Although the narrative of 20,000 Days is engaging throughout, non-fans of the Bad Seeds music will ache their way through the live performances that are included solely to placate established Cave fans. It’s hardly a deal breaker but it helps to be on board with Cave’s musical stylings to get the most out of this introspective view of the creative process.
In equal measures poetic, funny, daring and vicious, Cave’s willingness to allow a film-crew into his head is enlightening. Some will naturally come away lamenting the dissipation of a constructed image but as Cage proves in 20,000 Days on Earth, he doesn’t need to lean into his rockstar persona in order to say something interesting any longer.
A suitably majestic score and sound-work underline a poignant and fascinating look at the method of creation in both raw and fabricated environments.
20,000 Days on Earth is out now in limited release.