Nick Cave is many things: a musician, singer, writer, actor, and this is his twenty-thousandth day on Earth after a life well-lived, the life of a rock star. It has had its ups and downs, its highs and lows but also those in between days such as the ones that mainly take up his time now, getting up, eating, writing, watching television, a cycle that he is reluctant to break now he has some stability in his existence. He stays in Brighton, a far cry from his Australian upbringing where he began his music career in the hard rock band The Birthday Party, but his friend from throughout his career, Warren Ellis, has stuck by him through the era he was trading as The Bad Seeds and onto the solo projects. It's time for new material...
That new material was a whole new album, Push the Sky Away, which handily for the makers of 20,000 Days on Earth was one of his most acclaimed and successful in a while, and drummed up support for the documentary. Or was it a documentary-drama? Or simply a straight, scripted drama with a spot of concert footage? It was difficult to say just from looking, but whatever, directors Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard tried to capture the essence of the man who was their chosen subject who turned out to be a little like knitting fog when it came to pinning down precisely what made him tick. That said, what would any rock star be without a measure of enigma?
Therefore even though you couldn't tell what, if anything, was spontaneous and what was planned, as a sort of corporate promotional video with cultural kudos this was surprisingly absorbing no matter that you probably didn't come away learning very much more than you could have divined from Cave's lyrics and other writings. In fact, you might be better off with those, leaving a film that was tricksy but proof that he was good company if you simply wanted to hear his war stories, of which there were a decent amount, some, like his memories of his father who died when Cave was only nineteen, are poignant, and others, like the step by step illustrated talk of what happened at a Birthday Party gig when a man pissed on the stage, quite amusing.
In a hardcore rock and roll combat zone kind of way, and Cave is the first to admit the shows with that band descended into demonstrations of what happens when a band gets a violent reputation: basically a the audience want a fight, and the band start to wonder if anyone actually wants to hear their tunes. But Cave reinvented himself as novelist and screenwriter (though he apparently didn't script this) as well as continuing a musical career, and his cult only grew until as we see in the latter half's concert footage he is practically worshipped by the fans, their beatific expressions speaking to utter adoration to which the film subtly reacts with a mixture of endorsement and suspicion. Mind you, if you wanted a concert movie, this wasn't exactly it.
There are interspersed with Cave's creative process and reminiscences interviews with people he has worked with, as well as an examination by a psychiatrist where the man himself is questioned, so you would have him driving through the coastline's countryside making observations on the changeable weather that fascinates him, when all of a sudden there's Ray Winstone chatting away about playing Henry the Eighth and how it applies to Cave's performances. Later Kylie Minogue, a well-known obsession for the artiste and dueter with him on probably his biggest international chart hit (which he achieved without selling out in the least), appears in the back seat of the vehicle to tell of how they got to know one another through the late Michael Hutchence, and that she fears loneliness as she grows older. Cave says he fears losing his memory, though you wonder if this would be a good reminder for him should that happen as he goes through his archive of scrapbooks and photographs in scenes that should shed light on the creative process but don't, really. Entertaining, for all that.