“This is my 20,000th day on Earth.”
My first introduction to the abundant artistic capacity of Nick Cave was in the early Fall of 2004. I remember stumbling upon an article about the film City of Angels and the foreign feature which inspired it. So I searched, and I dug, and eventually found a copy of Wim Wender’s 1987 masterpiece Wings of Desire in a used movie shop. Try to find it yourself…it’s important cinema. In that Nick Cave plays himself, performing in a small Berlin club, and it’s not even that the songs he’s performing are good or memorable (see here). It’s that he has so much presence and such a vampy and unforgettable look that you wonder what else he’s done. Cave is a dying breed, one of the last true musical artists and storytellers left in the vacuous industry. 20,000 Days on Earth serves as an homage to the man himself, as well as showing where he is now and where he might go in the future. Its audacity is inspiring.
The title reflects Cave’s own inner reflections, being that to start we are meeting this 55-year-old man in his actual 20,000th day on Earth. And I say the film is audacious because of how fearlessly it is made. Maybe it’s a nod to Cave’s own career. He started very young and performed in groups determined to be shock-value bookings. They peed on the crowds, laid on the ground drunk and slurring, inciting as much riotous chaos as they could. He’s really the same man and performer now, yet like this film, he is more refined and sophisticated than he was in his perilously junkie youth. Cave’s the inwardly inquisitive subject of his own film. His days are spent writing, watching TV, pounding the typewriter, more TV. Being a family man, a performer, singer-songwriter, a film composer. He says he goes out solely to gain experiences to inspire further writing. To see his unthinkably dull and mature creative process is a thing of beauty.
20,000 Days on Earth can’t really be slated into one genre. It’s part documentary, part staged drama, and part intimate musical performance. But what ties those three styles together is the deeply unsettling and stirring personal tone that the film skillfully pursues. We get so see Cave talk with bandmates and a real psychiatrist. He performs lovely, haunting musical songs penned by himself. And most interestingly, there are dramatic pieces expertly crafted by Cave and his directors Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard. They feel organic to the documentary style all while obviously being rehearsed, or in the very least setup. Cave is a master of his craft and the quality of the film conveys his own artistic prowess. We see, hear, and feel exactly what he and his team want us to.
If you’re reading this and have gotten this far, search out for some of Cave’s music. You don’t need to know who he is prior to seeing the movie. In fact, that would generate a completely different and interseting perspective. But knowing his style and his technique gives rich insight and perspective. The man is a total conundrum. He’s fatally optimistic and utterly manic-depressive. He doesn’t believe in a god but his own lyrics preach to a higher power (Into My Arms, my favorite song of his, is a perfect example. It’s both spiritual and non-ecclesiastical in the best way.) Cave is more of a studied storyteller than he is a rhyming lyricist, and he calls his style narrative songwriting. The man is just smart and sage, and the wealth of advice and wisdom he shares with the camera over the course of 90 minutes is relentless, revelatory, and completely real. This film serves as an introspective journey for the viewer that increases self-awareness and a hope for a broader worldview.
There really isn’t anything wrong with this movie, yet for some reason I can’t seem to justify a perfect rating. Maybe because it’s more cathartically captivating than it is enthrallingly entertaining. The tone is so laid back that some of the major moments and declarations become lost. But that doesn’t detract from the greatness of this film – and it is in fact great. I believe the best storytellers are those with the most crystalline and detailed recollections of the past. They can pluck a moment in time and recall every heartbeat, or at least be so confident and persuasive that you believe they can. That’s the definitive power of Nick Cave…he’s bewildering and wise. 20,000 Days on Earth ends with an embrace of the madness of creation and the destructive power we have over our own minds. Like its haunting last shot, this is one of those films that lingers, that even if you don’t enjoy you can still respect. It’s hard to ignore greatness. So screw it…ignore my hesitance above. 20,000 Days on Earth is remarkably perfect and indelibly individual. See this and appreciate this.
“The worth of the idea never becomes apparent until you do it.”
Rating: 5 out of 5