20,000 Days on Earth: Cave in Technicolor
I’ve been a Nick Cave fan since I was a teenager, and have been eagerly looking forward to seeing his latest film, 20,000 Days on Earth. Cave is a renaissance man of sorts, with a long-standing career marked by participation in a bevy of bands and their subsequent albums (The Birthday Party and Grinderman are my favorites, but he’s made some fantastic music with the Bad Seeds and others over the years). His prose and screenwriting aren't too shabby either—particularly his novel And the Ass Saw the Angel, and his script for the 2005 film, The Proposition.
That’s not to say you have to be a fan to dig this flick. A somewhat fictionalized biopic, 20,000 Days paints Cave as a magnetic figure sure to keep viewers of all sorts intrigued through the brief, 90-minute film.
The premise at the heart of the film is capturing the performer’s 20,000th day on Earth, and in this respect the film takes poetic license. We see him pore over his collection of photographs and journals, drive and chat with one-time collaborator Kylie Minogue chauffeur style, and perform in a well-choreographed and certainly staged concert. The soundtrack to the film is largely from his latest album—one of the Bad Seeds’ best—and viewers get to see Cave in the studio, directing a chorus of children singing back up for the title song from it, “Push the Sky Away.”
Beautifully shot, the directors, Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard—who are first time feature filmmakers—are clearly fans, allowing Cave’s natural presence to dominate the film in a way that feels authentic. The fictional aspects of this story are less obvious in the plot and more apparent in the film’s visual choices—few other biopics have the ability to plan and light scenes exquisitely, rendering 20,000 Days hyper colored and gracefully enhanced. Who can blame them for these choices? Their vision of Cave won awards for directing and editing at Sundance this year.
Cave himself has become a bit of a caricature, with coal black hair and equally dark trademark brows, the film visually depitcs him as more of a tired nightclub singer than this old punk rock girl likes to see—a gold lamé dress shirt and tightly tailored sharkskin suit are two examples of his more questionable wardrobe choices. At one point in the film, he discusses meeting the standard, the image, of what is expected. People who have known celebrity for much of their lives seem to have two clear options: grow old gracefully or cling to the image that once aided them on their path to fame. Cave has clearly chosen the latter to some extent, but this introspective artist seems to be fully aware of the subtle humor in his decision. Rather than going full on Madame Tussaud's, like most of 'em, Cave seems more akin to a hardbound book retaining its formerly colorful but now tattered dust jacket. Despite its obvious wear or outmoded design, the dust jacket remains because it has served its purpose well, so why bother removing it? Lucky for Cave, he's a man, because in our society, aging men are allowed to be taken seriously despite the physical manifestation of age and exaggerations.
Time has not transformed Cave’s work in a way I can find fault with—he is as dark and brooding, poetic and spellbinding, intense and zealous as he’s ever been. If anything, his contemporary work is more succinct—these days he’s boiling off the excess to deliver a concentrated, rich sound and cleaner, tighter lyrics. Days certainly draws the viewer in with fantastic lighting and saturated imagery, but it’s Cave’s soulful voice and keen observations that keep us engaged. He is, if nothing else, a masterful teller of tales.
“All of our days are numbered,” says Cave toward the end of the film. “We cannot afford to be idle. To act on a bad idea is better than to not act at all. Because the worth of the idea never becomes apparent until you do it. Sometimes this idea can be the smallest thing in the world, a little flame that you hunch over and cup with your hand, and pray will not be extinguished by all the storm that howls about it. If you could hold onto that flame, great things could construct around it, that are massive and powerful and world changing, all held up by the tiniest of ideas.”
Nick Cave’s 20,000 Days on Earth opens in theaters nationally today, though to the best of my knowledge, Buffalonians will have to wait until Squeaky Wheel shows it on October 22 to see it on the big screen.
Christa Glennie Seychew is Buffalo Spree's senior editor.