A Portrait of the Artist
[pullquote cite=”” type=”left, right”][amazon text=Amazon&template=carousel&chan=That Film Guy&asin=B00K8GL8G6][/pullquote] Nick Cave has been making brilliant, compelling music for more than 30 years, from explosive post punk blues with the Birthday Party to his extensive body of work with the Bad Seeds.
Rather than create a standard, behind-the-scenes style rock documentary about this fascinating performer, directors Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard have made something magical, a day in the life of Nick Cave that draws loosely on reality to create a wonderful fiction that leaves the rock star myth intact while showing what makes Cave tick.
Set in his adopted home of Brighton, the film follows Cave through a series of encounters during a day, interspersed with footage of him recording and performing with his band, the Bad Seeds.
We see him holed up in his office, surrounded by piles of books, photographs and kitsch artwork, pounding away at a typewriter; talking to a pyschoanalyst about growing up in Australia; meeting his friend and collaborator Warren Ellis for lunch; and visiting the Nick Cave archive to look through photos, journals and ephemera from his long career.
Between this, we see him driving to these encounters with various passengers joining him for short conversations… Actor Ray Winstone, former bandmate Blixa Bargeld and Kylie Minogue who helped Cave to his only hit single, Where The Wild Roses Grow, in 1995.
It’s unclear whether these in-car conversations are meant to be ‘real’ or imaginary but that doesn’t really matter.
Like the whole of the film, these scenes are about the creative instinct and the business of performing.
For Cave, the aim is always for moments of transformation during performance, where he ‘forgets’ himself. We see him touch on this a number of times and the inter-cut footage of him on stage and rehearsing or recording shows this happening.
One of the things Cave remembers about his dad when talking to the psychoanalyst is that he ‘transformed’ when he read him the first chapter of Lolita; this has obviously had a lasting impact on Cave. There are fascinating snatches of conversation with the psychoanalyst where Cave is very frank and it’s obvious he is actually very self-aware. He takes his songwriting seriously but he doesn’t take himself too seriously – Cave has a deadpan, self-deprecating wit that may undercut the image many have of him.
There’s no narration as such, but we hear Cave reading passages from his notebooks and, through the cumulative effect of it all, we got an engrossing portrait of the artist. That’s down to Forsyth and Pollard’s unusual and inventive assembling of material for this film. It may be largely fictional in its depictions but it also feels entirely truthful in its representations of Nick Cave, his life and the way he creates.
Funny, surprising, involving and at times moving, 20,000 Days on Earth captures the essence of Nick Cave while allowing him somehow to remain elusive, mythic and other worldly at the same time. Inspiring.