Music’s Nick Cave explores Nick Cave in ‘20,000 days’

Tom Long
The Detroit News

A creative study of creativity, the category-defying “20,000 Days on Earth” explores the process, poetry, history and drive behind rock singer Nick Cave’s work.

Cave, an Australian who lives in Great Britain, has sat on rock’s razor edge for decades now, traveling a path similar to American songwriters and performers like Bob Dylan and Lou Reed with the spirit of Jim Morrison hovering nearby. A critical and cult favorite most of his career, he’s given to dark narratives and dark clothes, but he never feels like a cliché.

So how fitting that a film about him would travel such a unique road. And literally, Cave is on the road, driving a good deal of the time during the film, discussing his career and aspirations with various people — the actor Ray Winstone, pop singer Kylie Minogue, a former bandmate — who suddenly appear in a seat and then disappear just as suddenly.

The basic idea in “20,000 Days” is that the camera is following Cave through a day, from getting out of bed, through a visit with his shrink, to a recording studio where he’s working. He drops in on his band leader, Warren Ellis, for a bit of tea and some reminiscing about gigs gone by. And he visits “the archive,” a place where his own history is being assembled and studied.

It is in no way a documentary, but at the same time you’re certainly visiting the world of Nick Cave in depth. Cave has a nice way of mixing matter-of-fact conversation with sudden bursts of poetic revelation. With the psychotherapist he seems disarmingly honest, in the studio he’s obviously in command, and when he looks back on a long-ago gig where he opened for Nina Simone, he’s clearly in awe of the power of performance.

The film builds to the power of one of Cave’s own performances, at the Sydney Opera House. And yet, somehow, the camera cuts back to Cave sitting on the couch at home with his twin boys, eating pizza and watching “Scarface.”

Skillfully made by directors Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard, who co-wrote the script with Cave, the film also floats atop a sometime simmering, sometime ecstatic score by Cave and Ellis. The result is something of an abstract autobiography set to film. You don’t just meet and learn about Nick Cave in “20,000 Days,” you feel him.

‘20,000 Days on Earth’


Not rated

Running time: 97 minutes