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20,000 Days on Earth

Nick Cave is no ordinary bloke. So the documentary about his 20,000th day on earth is no ordinary film.
By Rima Sabina Aouf
August 18, 2014
By Rima Sabina Aouf
August 18, 2014

20,000 Days on Earth is a documentary that's fiction. Though it's by no means the only documentary to question the form and take things meta, it is one of the most boldly experimental ones out there. It's a work that's highly constructed from start to finish — and since it's constructed with and about Nick Cave, there's plenty of fun to be had.

The film imagines the 20,000th day on earth of the Australian-born, UK-based singer and raconteur. It's a day that includes him talking to his shrink, recording an album, helping archivists make sense of his historical record, lunching with his pals, driving Kylie Minogue around Brighton, and playing at the Sydney Opera House. A pretty great day, really, particularly for its impossibilities. Running throughout is, naturally, Cave's own music, rumbling out of the studio and guiding his path through the world.

Instead of clarity and chronology, what you get in 20,000 Days on Earth is a fragmented sense of biography that is sometimes deeply insightful, sometimes electrifying and sometimes frustrating. Major characters in the life of Nick Cave, such as collaborator Warren Ellis and The Proposition star Ray Winstone, appear without context or label, meaning that to really follow this winding ride, you have to be au fait with the life of Cave.

If you're not, just let it go; there are plenty of moments here that are plain entertaining regardless, while a live performance montage set to a frenzied, ever building version of 'Jubilee Street' is near rapturous to witness. The conversation between Cave and Minogue feels painfully intimate and revealing, despite all the scripting that frames it.

Artists-turned-directors Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard have basically conjured a new format here, one that's wondrously poetic and imaginative. There's a sense that it could be applied to tell nearly anybody's fragmented, personal tale, though having the flair and flamboyance of Cave certainly helps. Eavesdropping on a conversation with Cave is right up there with the high points of cultural consumption.

20,000 Days on Earth gets points for pure brio. It's not like anyone would want every documentary to be made this way, but it sure is an interesting divergence.

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