Midway into the memoir-ish pseudo-documentary
20,000 Days on Earth
, the Nick Cave novice may wonder what all the fuss is about. Who's this self-serious artiste with the long black hair and brooding brow, going on about Nabokov's
(his dad read it to him as a child, he says), about the teenage girls who dressed him in women's clothes, about his drug-addict days, and about the way he continues to cannibalize his own life, and that of his wife, model Susie Bick, to make his songs - these "crooked versions of yourself?"
Then, finally, sitting at the piano in a country manor-turned-recording facility, with his drummer providing the slow, storm-tossed beats, Cave does his "Higgs Boson Blues," start to finish (yes, he's talking about the particle collider - "I'm going down to Geneva, baby"), referencing Robert Johnson, Martin Luther King, Miley Cyrus (and her Disney Channel incarnation, Hannah Montana), dolphins, pygmies, trees on fire, and yellow patent-leather shoes. It's a wondrous mix of the momentous and mundane, the profound and the perverse, with Cave blues-talking his way through the goofy juxtapositions, the darkness, and the light.
Directed by Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard, 20,000 Days on Earth is at once truthful to who Cave is and what he's about and a load of sublime malarkey. The Australian-born, Britain-based singer/songwriter, novelist, screenwriter, and occasional thespian is seen driving his car near his Brighton Beach home with the burly, bearded actor Ray Winstone, the two men talking about what it's like to lose yourself in performance, as a rock star, or as the mighty monarch Henry VIII.
Cave sits down with his therapist (British Freudian psychoanalyst Darian Leader plays the role), recalling his earliest sexual experiences, the death of his father, and what scares him most. He goes to visit his bandmate, the Bad Seeds' Warren Ellis, who serves up a dish of eels and black pasta - the perfect Cave-ian repast!
Cave's influences run the gamut: American roots music, Kurt Weill, Leonard Cohen, John Berryman, Edward Gorey, Elvis. His persona is grave, his songs full of doom, but 20,000 Days on Earth - made around the time he was 55 (he's just turned 57 this week) - is actually quite a lot of fun.
Directed by Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard. With Nick Cave, Susie Bick, Warren Ellis, Ray Winstone. Distributed by Drafthouse Films.
Running time: 1 hour, 37 mins.
Parent's guide: No MPAA rating (adult themes).
Playing at: PFS at the Roxy.EndText