For a singer-songwriter such as Nick Cave to see a psychiatrist may seem redundant, but we’re privileged to Cave’s therapy in Iain Forsyth & Jane Pollard’s 20,000 Days on Earth, a documentary on one of the Earth’s great slowly-swelling rock stardoms and one residing within the kung-fu grip of its subject. The scene with the shrink – which was filmed over two days – is indicative: are we witness to a confession of vulnerability or the performance of such? The crux of the entire film would appear to lie in the question: does it matter?
Taking place in the period around the recording of the album Push the Sky Away, which informally would appear to be his most popular release in years, when we finally get an opportunity to journey through the past – through Berlin and The Birthday Party and Brazil and the occasional silhouette of Mick or PJ Harvey – it’s personally directed by Cave by way of a trip through his personal archives (how he kept all his crap together over his tumultuous life, I have no idea).
Cave, whose ruminations take up much of the soundtrack, is straightforward about the connections between memory and creation and it doesn’t really beg the question to see why a performer who had once given himself so totally over to drugs and religion would also be one incapable of entirely letting go of his personal narrative, that a man who would write a classic song about a woman as a boat might be incapable of releasing the rudder himself.
During the film’s press conference, co-director Jane Pollard took pains to point out that though the film works as a documentary, it isn’t really true, that it was edited, with Cave’s approval to make its subject appear more troubled than he actual was – neglecting to answer Ray Winstone’s questions (Winstone, like Kylie Minogue and former Bad Seeds guitarist Blixa Bargeld neither of whom Cave had seen in years, mysteriously pops in and out of Cave’s auto as he motors around his hometown of Brighton) or appearing more melancholic in therapy than reality. “Nick is a real person,” Pollard noted. “But the film isn’t very real.”
“Maybe it has to do with being a celebrity, being constantly interviewed, that the most intimate things being said are in these unusual situations,” Cave added. And if not, we can fix it in post.
But is Cave a rock star or a long time man with a hard won cult? Both the press screening and conference were only half-attended, though as ubiquitous Exberliner mascot Mahari Seghid noted, Cave’s music is played in every bar in Friedrichshain (I guess he lives in Friedrichshain). His life, at this point, is unabashedly one of the bourgeois bohemian; as he puts it at the start of the doc, he eats, he watches TV (Scarface with the kids) and “mostly, I write” (by typewriter, of course). Art can provide the rest. Cave explained, “I think cinema was invented to show violence. That’s why I got interested in cinema, really.” And then we all moved on to the next film.
20,000 Days on Earth screens Feb 11, 22:30 (CineStar 7), Feb 12, 22:00 (CineStar IMAX), Feb 15, 15:30 (Colosseum 1)