Human pipe cleaner, Nick Cave has a career that spans 40 years and encapsulates being a singer, writer, shit kicker, actor and connoisseur of narcotics. His output with The Birthday Party, to the Bad Seeds, to Grinderman, and numerous compositions with beardy Warren Ellis in between, has bounced from clenched fisted punk to soul gnawing eulogies to the dead. It will come as no surprise then that, like his back catalogue, 20,000 Days on Earth is hard to pin down and summarise.
Directed by video artists Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard (who have collaborated with Cave on numerous occasions) the artist lives out a fictional 24 hours in Brighton. Except it’s not all fictional, because here comes a candid interview that delves into Cave’s drug abuse and early days. And there’s Ellis breaking bread and discussing Nina Simone. But then the waters are muddied as Cave dips into an archive of photos and diaries set up for the film and disguised as something urgent Cave needs to deal with that day (He even cuts his meal with Ellis short to get there on time).
Yes, it’s all a construct. But not in the fashion we’ve become desensitized to thanks to the likes of the Kardashians and the rest of the E! news stable. We actually learn something about our subject, even if we’re not getting a full view behind the black velvet curtain. Cave’s family are rarely glimpsed, apart from a cheeky film night with his youngest children to watch Scarface.
It’s also a fitting portrait on the subject of aging gracefully and being forgotten. Not that Cave has any intention of doing either. As he drives around his hometown of Brighton, he also ferries around Kylie Minogue, Ray Winstone and Blixa Bargeld whose appearances are dressed up as Cave reminiscing, merely ghosts of an afterthought. They talk about the humility that comes with growing old and the added responsibilities that crop up.
On paper, it probably all seems jarring, but there’s something intrinsically organic about 20,000 Days on Earth that suggests that this was the only way you could build this cinematic monument to an artist.