20,000 Days on Earth

20000daysonearth_crop54 years and change. That was about three years ago now for Nick Cave, whose semi-documentary is one of the odder meditations around on music, art, and the folly of making documentaries. There are no flies on Nick’s wall, we see no warts other than those artfully placed for us to see. The places we see are sets. The conversations are not written, but staged. Warren Ellis does not live by those magnificent white cliffs, but the filmmakers thought he ought to.

Nick Cave is a rock god. That’s his job. While this film might explore aspects of his life, it does not diminish his mystique – it’s not supposed to. The only times the film feels uninhibited are when music is being performed or written (and, indeed, some of the scenes from the Push The Sky Away sessions were indeed the actual band recording in the studio.)


Where Nick Cave appears most unguarded is in a scene where he’s sitting on a couch with his sons, watching Scarface and eating pizza. Which, of course, was not what happened. They were in a set, staring at a camera.

We also don’t see him spending hours at a gym, which to keep in as decent shape as he is for a mid-50s former heavy drug abuser is mad.

The best parts of the film are the car conversations. Nick Cave will be driving around, and friends will pop into the car for a chat. Ryan Winstone, Blixa Bargeld, the infinitely lovely Kylie Minogue. Not Mick Harvey, unfortunately. Of the Bad Seeds, Warren Ellis (who is abso-friggin-lutely hilarious) is the only one who does much speaking on camera. It’s not that kind of documentary. It’s barely a documentary.
Because in real life Nick Cave does not type his lyrics out laboriously, right from his brain. He writes them long hand, then edits them on a computer. But that feels less true about Nick Cave, rock star, even if it is the fact about Nick Cave, guy.
Not too much in the way of music performance (though there are a couple of breathtaking concert sequences that made me want the whole concert, dammit), but plenty of gorgeous and meaty filmmaking.

About Kent Conrad

To contact Kent Conrad, email kentc@explodedgoat.com