Cave Spins Poetic Beauty In This Beguiling Sorta Doco. Mesmerising.
I’ll confess up front, I’m no fan of Nick Cave. I’m no detractor either; he just hasn’t ever made it onto my radar beyond that brief, odd little blip where he bashed Kylie Minogue’s head in with a rock and drowned her in the video for Where the Wild Roses Grow.
A passionate love of his work isn’t required to get the most out of 20,000 Days On Earth’s not-quite documentary, though it would no doubt be a bonus. Indeed, you may find yourself reassessing your opinion of his sonorous vocals and dirge-like material once you let go and are swept away by the strangely melodic poetry encompassed here.
Even if you have missed the majority of his career, the stunning opening sequence hurls you through its entirety of it in a couple of bewilderingly fantastic moments. Part trip down Cave’s darkly entertaining history, from crack addiction to Kylie, Nina Simone and beyond, there’s a pseudo-dramatic gorgeousness to this incredibly inspiring piece, written by Cave alongside visual artists turned directors Jane Pollard and Ian Forsyth and elaborated by Erik Wilson’s majestic cinematography.
It shows off the musician’s best attributes – a stubborn refusal to blend in and a boundless passion for creativity. It’s telling that his brush with mainstream stardom following his duet with the Antipodean pop princess, and the avalanche of media attention it brought him, not only perplexed but also slightly horrified him. There’s a sharply hilarious moment when he sits in his car as Kylie’s Can’t Get You Outta My Head comes on the radio. He flicks it off mid, “la la la,” with a scowl.
His fellow Australian export to Britain appears later on in one of a series of phantom-like appearances by collaborators who are with him one moment in his car and gone again These are the most powerful moments, as he and Minogue share recollections of Michael Hutchence and she reveals her fear of growing old alone. Ray Winstone grumbles about Shakespeare and being a king. Warren Ellis is another wonderful presence, outside of these car segues, with a surreal scene involving him dishing up an un-touched meal of eels and another arch one seeing him rib Cave about a melody sounding a bit Lionel Ritchie.
There are band members and archival types collating the story of his life in photographic and diary fragments, and there’s a telling if slightly stagey psychiatry session, brown couches and all, that opens up the subject of Cave’s longing for a father who died too soon and his subsequent relationship with drugs. So much of 20,000 Days On Earth is not quite what it seems, and that’s half the joy. He’s an artful poet with a swaggering, curmudgeonly charisma that might just have me trawling through the back catalogues.
Stephen A Russell