‘20,000 Days On Earth’ An Elegant Eerie Look Inside The Cave

The new documentary motion picture, 20,000 Days On Earth, presents, in its own elliptical, urbane and virtually singular way, the recent musical recording exploits and staged life excerpts of gloom n’ blues alternative Australian rock crooner Nick Cave. As the title implies, it ostensibly chronicles or, better yet, weaves together a record of his five or so decades of making gothy music magic on this earth and his otherwise life on the outside. The movie moves in and out of what, at times, feels like a lucid dream state. It’s almost as if someone stuck a viewing monitor cable in the back of Cave’s brain, enabling the audience to see little lurid and sweet flashes of his life before our very eyes. Yet, most of 20,000 Days On Earth doesn’t go through the archives like a typical rock documentary would, in a linear rise and fall format, peppered with television interviews and extended performance video. Instead, it achieves what it set out to do: make beautiful cinematic art, while digging deep into Cave’s psyche, rendering what the work and the man are almost all about.

Cave’s voiceover throughout the film provides us an ongoing dialogue with  himself. Sometimes, those from his past re-enter his life, especially when he’s driving around Brighton, U.K. alone, essentially, well, thinking. Then, seemingly disembodied voices appear, and, in turn, the people behind those voices sit suddenly in his car, passengers in Cave’s world.

Fellow founder of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Blixa Bargeld, makes his entry in the passenger seat. It’s a conversation that Bad Seeds fans have been waiting to hear for a while. Why did Bargeld leave the Bad Seeds in 2004 after having collaborated for so many years with Cave? Bargeld is frank about his decision, which seemed abrupt at the time, to retire as a Bad Seed. There’s pain in both of their faces that express this dissolution.

Then, pop music chanteuse Kylie Minogue appears. Her duet with Cave, “Where The Wild Roses Grow” hit the charts in 1995, having given The Bad Seeds a wider audience. They laugh about their time together performing and recording. Minogue admits that she had to read a biography on Cave, one of his unauthorized ones, to find out who he was before they met.

An elegant visual tapestry of the tense and the playful, the story of Cave’s true emergence as a person and his reflection on 20,000 days alive is part celebration and part melancholy. Throughout the film, there are intimate jam sessions with fellow Bad Seeds and his current collaborator, Warren Ellis, also enjoys a lot of screen time. For fans, it will be glaringly obvious that Mick Harvey is not part of the film. Harvey left The Bad Seeds in 2009 and was Cave’s longest collaborator in different bands – and incarnations of NCATBS – since they were kids. Cave talks of Harvey, but without a single revelation about how he left or even if it really mattered.

Other topics are brought up in Cave’s periodic therapy sessions, like the early death of his father, lifelong fears and sex. Each seem to make Cave squirm in his chair, as we squirm with him, while dying to know his answers.

Directors Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard have created an utterly amazing film about Nick Cave. If anyone dared to create another Cave documentary after seeing this film, they would likely fall very short.

20,000 Days On Earth opens on Sept. 26 at the Egyptian Theater and Laemmle Pasadena Playhouse.