20,000 Days On Earth, Nick Cave

1995. Nick Cave and Kylie Minogue. Kylie Minogue and Nick Cave. An odd couple, perhaps. Their antipodean collaboration brought The Bad Seeds’ frontman as close to the mainstream as physically possible. For a man more used to terrifying than titillating his audience, a duet on Top of the Pops was hardly keeping up hard won satanic appearances. If Kylie erected a career out of soft porn, then Nick’s Cave was very much more at the harder end of the spectrum. Being the next Jason Donovan was a strange option to say the least.

Kylie appears not once, but twice in this most unusual of ‘rockumentaries’. Once in audio and again in audiovisual. As a suitably bloodshot, red-eyed Cave slides out of bed and into the Jag, Kylie’s transcendental, classic anthem “Can’t Get You Out Of My Head” licks out of the tinny speakers (check out the Glasgow Commonwealth Games closing ceremony if such praise seems sarcastic, that guitar!). Only for our main man to instantly cut the radio and drive off in silence. A symbolic moment. A conscious rejection of this bizarre Bad Seeds phase? Absolutely not. Their relationship comes up smelling of roses as Kylie claims Cave’s backseat.

Minogue, alongside Ray Winstone’s comedy cameo, is the most memorable of the characters who appear in Cave’s Jaguar. His 20,000th day is neatly segmented into ghostlike vignettes of memory that toy with the fabric of reality and dream as individuals from the past leak into the events of his present day. Kylie, framed in the reflective portrait of the rear-view mirror, is the perfect prism through which the pair discuss loneliness and legacy, even if their moment of mainstream is ancient in their collective history.

Pollard and Forsyth’s film, instillation artists both and virgins to the medium of film, channel an exploitative, philosophical trip into the mind of a rare genius. It is a celebration of a sometime calamitous, always cacophonous career. They marry perfectly the aestheticism of the artist with the happy handling of material only possible from two life-long fans. They, alongside Cave remain unremittingly self-conscious of the camera throughout, yet paradoxically present something that captures the essence of this skilful, wilful enigma. It feels real, even within the confines of the construct.

The construct is almost the fatal flaw of the film. The two major set pieces, Cave at the psychiatrist in the first phase and the visit to the Bad Seeds archive in the second half are stiflingly detrimental to the overall project. They confine Cave to a context, while the car scenes and live sets allow Cave to transform and transport himself into the fantasy of the performance artist. The archive visit is gratingly gratuitous and bloated as a means to further investigate The Birthday Party and Cave’s Berlin days. It is the only real occasion during the 97min trip into the Cave that we see the unlikeable, narcissistic ego at the heart of the performer.

Otherwise, we see a phantom shade shuddering onstage, alongside the pizza eating family man in front of the tv with the twins; the 1980s heroin junkie, cooped up in a Notting Hill attic, alongside the middle class muncher of eel suppers and Apple MacBooks at feral bandmate Warren Ellis’s Sussex coastal home; the tender, loving husband and father, alongside the raging sexual fantasist who indulges his fetish in song. But most of all, we are witness to the art in the act of creation.

The soundtrack draws principally from 2012 Bad Seeds album, Push The Sky Away. The directors use the often lilting, bucolic quality of this most ethereal of albums to juxtapose the frantic, fling alongs of their early material and raucous live sets. In combining these two polarities they aptly achieve a welcome synthesis of the true Bad Seeds and the black Cave at its heart. From the glorious scraping skies of the French villa in which Push The Sky Away was recorded to the box office splendour of a sold out final night at the Sydney Opera House, a full insight into the band is provided. From those whispered early utterances that become the seed for a fully flourishing song to the orchestral backing bands of the full set, all is placed under the omnipresent lens of the camera.

As Jubilee Street ’s regal chord sequence slowly cascades through the speakers and builds to the messianic, transporting monomania of the climax, Pollard and Forsyth have room for one final moment of inspiration. While the middle aged Cave devilishly dances and disturbingly distorts onstage, the images become epileptic as older, earlier videos of those same movements fracture the majesty of the live set. Suddenly the Cave of the 80s, 90s and 00s collides with that character onstage and the rapid fire image inventory collects the past of one man in a single, sumptuous sequence. The past and present combine to create Nick Cave.

He has a history and a past. 2015. The future…

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