Film & TV

Review – 20,000 Days On Earth

“I’ve always been an ostentatious bastard”. During his 57 years on earth, Nick Cave has been a part of four bands, scripted three films (a new version of The Crow is also in the works), scored a dozen, and published four novels and poetry collections. His singular approach to his art make him a very attractive choice to focus a quasi-documentary on, but the sheer abundance and prolificacy of his accomplishments means there is great potential for the thing to become a muddled mess. 

Following the best opening title sequence since 20 Feet From Stardom, in which we rush through Cave’s preceding 19,999 days in a freewheelin’ and appropriately discordant montage, directors Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard cover the titular time frame by leaping through a series of unique set-pieces: Cave talking with a psychiatrist (real life psychoanalyst Darian Leader); visiting his archive; hallucinating(?) conversations with people from his past while driving round his Brighton hometown and going about recording The Bad Seeds’ 15th album Push The Sky Away.


This approach to rock documentary (“if you will, rockumentary”), thoroughly unique though it is, is not sufficient to sustain itself on its own; more needs to be said. Cave’s own musings on everything that comes to mind are woven throughout and give structure to what is otherwise snippets of a scrapbook of a life.

The scrapbook image is extremely apt for the 20,000 Days, with Cave at one point expressing his greatest fear being losing his memory (he later remarks his greatest fear as something different, accident or intentional rhetorical device?) Thus he has a great interest in the everyday, the moments that slip by unnoticed. So we see him clock-watching in waiting rooms and Scarface-watching with his children, consuming rare personal (though arguably artificial) moments in the life of a man who once bashed Kylie Minogue’s head in with a rock.


Kylie herself makes an appearance, as one of the three aforementioned car-seat-interviewees (the others being Ray Winstone and Blixa Bargeld), and these sequences were both the most fascinating and unsatisfactorily short. It wouldn’t have been difficult to dedicate more time to these, even with all the ‘everyday moments’ that populated the film.

There was more to my slight disappointment in the film than the result of high expectations not being met – I feel that the film is just the sum of its parts, and this is a tragedy. Film is possibly the only medium that could have conveyed this meditation on an artist in an appropriately nuanced and complex way, and the directors seemed to let Cave dictate the shape it would take (though admittedly this was probably the only way they could ever have gotten him to agree to the project), for better or worse.


His poetic voice-over fills virtually every minute that nobody onscreen is speaking, ruminating on everything from the creative process to his relationship with his dead father and even Nina Simone. Though used to great effect in the exhilarating trailer, it just seemed awkward and embarrassing in places, like a lesser artist’s attempt to emote depth. That said there were insights to be gleaned.

The repeated references to transformation, first called to attention in a question posed by Leader to Cave, pointed to major motif and an obsession beyond his most recent couple of albums. By the time he remarks “I’m transforming. I’m vibrating” in the climactic live performance of Jubilee Street it’s clear it is nothing short of a mission statement. The old ‘evolve don’t revolve’ maxim rejuvenated through his absolute commitment to its meaning. It is in these moments of pure intent and transcendence that the film saves and raises itself, as well as showing life in the 20,000 day old dog yet. He’s glowing. He’s flying. Look at him now.

Tom Watchorn


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