Given his distinctive and ultra-dramatic stage presence, it makes sense that a documentary portrait of Nick Cave would not be the usual thing. And “20,000 Days on Earth” is not the usual thing.
At first this film appears to be a rumination on where the Australian-born rock star is these days: 20,000 days of life puts him in his mid-fifties, and we meet him in his home in Brighton, England, where he lives with wife Susie and two sons.
The movie then winds from one random stop to the next. Cave is seen sitting in what appears to be a therapy session with real-life psychoanalyst Darian Leader, musing on his former life as an addict and his relationship to his father.
We also see conversations in cars. Cave chats with actor Ray Winstone (star of “The Proposition,” which Cave co-scripted) and pop superstar Kylie Minogue. Like much of the film, these situations are contrived, but the conversations are unscripted.
Cave rehearses music, sits at his typewriter and explains his creative process, and visits his archive. The movie culminates in a stage performance in Sydney, where we get a taste of the heavy, hypnotic style that turns Cave’s stage act into a near-religious ritual.
One of the best sequences is a visit with Cave’s longtime creative partner, Warren Ellis, a member of the Bad Seeds and the co-composer of Cave’s beautiful score for “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.” Ellis is an incorrigible raconteur — there’s a great bit about seeing Jerry Lee Lewis in concert — who cooks his friend a serving of eel in a house near the white cliffs of Dover.
Directors Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard have worked with Cave before, and they’ve obviously gotten him comfortable talking about himself. Or maybe it didn’t take much: Cave comes across as so given to introspection that his musings can come across as navel-gazing.
That’s going to test the patience of viewers who aren’t already part of Cave’s devoted following. But I found it an interesting portrait of the self-analysis that’s probably obligatory for an artist who goes as far out there as Cave does.
It would’ve been cool to hear something about Cave’s appearance in Wim Wenders’ “Wings of Desire,” but that doesn’t come up. Beyond that, if you’re a Nick Cave fan, this is a must-see. And the uninitiated have a good chance of being intrigued, if not actually hypnotized.
“20,000 Days on Earth” (3 stars)
A documentary portrait (but with contrived situations) of the Australian-born rock star Nick Cave. It’s an offbeat approach, as befits Cave’s distinctive style, and includes scenes of home life, rehearsals, and therapy. The results has more than its share of navel-gazing, but you do get a sense of what goes into being the kind of artist Cave is.
Rating: Not rated; probably PG for language
Showing: Grand Illusion theater