Directed by: Iain Forsyth
Produced by: Dan Bowen
Screenplay by: Iain Forsyth
Starring: Nick Cave
Music by: Warren Ellis
Cinematography by: Erik Wilson
Editing by: Jonathan Amos
Studio(s): Corniche Pictures
Distributed by: Drafthouse Films
Release date(s): January 20, 2014 (Sundance Film Festival)
September 19, 2014 (United Kingdom)
Running time: 95 minutes
Country: United Kingdom
Production budget: under £2million (estimated)
Box-office revenue (as of publication): $192, 108 (domestic gross only)
Aloha, aloha! That review for A Most Wanted Man was meant to be posted on Thursday or Friday, but for complicated, stupid and rather boring reasons, I didn't get it sorted until yesterday. It was quite the annoyance, considering Blogger freezing on the 'Insert image' window before it had loaded the exit button meant that I lost two paragraphs of good material. Anywho, the march goes on, and after this, Maps To The Stars finishes out August/September (finally!), and then I get onto October, for which I have already seen Pride, Dracula Untold, The Equalizer, and will be going to the Queens Film Theatre for Ida later on. So, for all the latest and greatest involving the movies, keep your eyes posted!
Today's film up for review is 20,000 Days On Earth, which has become known in the art-house and festival circuits as 'the Nick Cave documentary.' For those of you who don't know already, I'm a rabid Nick Cave fan. Notwithstanding his incredible work since the seventies as a musician and songwriter (being a member of The Birthday Party, Grinderman and the eponymous Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, the latter group's The Firstborn Is Dead and Your Funeral My Trial being among my favourite albums), he is also an author (And The Ass Saw The Angel, The Death Of Bunny Munro), screenwriter (John Hillcoat's The Proposition), film composer (The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford, The Road) and occasional actor (Wim Wenders' Wings Of Desire, Ghosts... Of The Civil Dead), so, yeah, I like Nick Cave. A lot. However, as I mentioned in relation Philip Seymour Hoffman, one must not be swayed by positive feelings towards a given figure, so I will remain as unbiased as possible here. The film is written (alongside Cave) and directed by Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard, and when you see 'written' in relation to a documentary, is automatically makes you go, "hmm?" because, after all, aren't written screenplays the realm of fiction, not reality? However, Forsyth and Pollard, who have worked on short films commissioned by Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds covering all of their albums, decided instead to focus on Nick Cave, the Myth, as opposed to Nick Cave, the Man, "because he still has that mythology intact, we felt a real urge of 'Fuck, let's protect it! Let's not chisel away at that.'" The central concept is that we follow Nick Cave through a fictional twenty-four hours of his life, very meta and all, Forsyth saying that "There's a truth and honesty in the film, but it's not a biological truth." Truth I think is key to both documentary and fictional film, but Werner Herzog differentiates between "facts" and "truth," arguing that he's more interested in the pursuit of "an ecstasy of truth, a much deeper stratum," than sticking to the typical drawing board, even it means using narratives and things more associated with fictional film. It's an interesting philosophy that certainly justifies Forsyth and Pollard's film in terms of theory and aesthetic approach, but does the film itself stand up on it's own two feet and put theory in practice, execution? Let's find out!
As I've mentioned, I'm going to try my best to be as unbiased as I can, but I would be a liar if I said that I didn't go into this with a certain level of excitement as a Nick Cave fan, and I my positive expectations were duly confirmed. We get the behind-the-scenes look at the making of Push The Sky Away, the most recent Bad Seeds album, the recording of which, when shot by Erik Wilson, who oftentimes simply lets the camera roll in extended long takes, provide for some genuinely beautiful film moments. Taken away from the 'narrative,' these songs unfolding before are like little encapsulations kept separate from any particular moment in time. Also, we get Cave going through his 'archives,' looking into his past and we get a myriad of stories and anecdotes, with both a psychiatrist figure and the likes of Warren Ellis, who in himself becomes a strange sort of figure of humour throughout the piece, recalling Nina Simone terrified everyone in her path, requesting "some champagne, some cocaine and some sausages," and keeping the chewing gum she stuck onto her piano before her performance. Speaking of figures, Cave does an interesting bit of work as 'Nick Cave playing a semi-autobiographical version of Nick Cave.' Buoyed up by a script that serves to preserve the mythology that he has created around himself through his work, Cave's twenty-four voyage enables us, through him, to be able explore all the facets of his 'character.' He's meditative, contemplating the time he has spent and the life he has lead, and it leads to a fascinating exploration of the personal philosophies that have brought him to this point, such as his constant digesting of information ("I'm a cannibal looking for someone to cook in a pot") and his eulogising on the transformative power of art and music. Interestingly, despite his talking about all of this "important shit," Cave never once comes across as a pretentious, artsy-fartsy oaf, more than willing to be able to realise his limitations and is charmingly frank in recalling his past troubles with drug abuse and exploring his relationships over the years with genuine earnestness. There's an old saying that you should never meet your heroes because they will only disappoint you, but this hero is one that most certainly will not. Even if you are not a fan of Nick Cave, there much enjoyment to be found from 20,000 Days On Earth. The aforementioned Erik Wilson shoots a good-looking picture, giving it a crisp quality which a lot of other docs are lacking. So many films, never mind documentaries, have an ugly digital photography look which dims the colour palette, but here, Wilson uses the Arri Alexa, surely one of the best digital most picture cameras, to it's fullest. He always seems to have a right mind as to how to moodily light the film, the archive scenes in particular, almost reminiscent of the shadowy rooms in Citizen Kane and Blade Runner, suiting the general atmosphere of the film. Also, the script is intelligent enough that although this is a 'fictionalised documentary,' it balances the line between reality and fiction so finely that it keeps the viewer guessing. Ray Winstone, Blixa Bargeld, Kylie Minogue, various people from Cave's life pop up in his car over the course of the day; are these projections of Cave's own consciousness as he drives from station to station (not back to Dusseldorf City, but rather Brighton!)? Finally, as much as Cave is the author of his own mythology, I think that Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard deserves a lot of credit for bringing that across to the big screen. Quite clearly, now is the right time unleash this beast upon the world, and over the course of the film's ninety-five minutes do a fine job of keeping us engaged in the narrative. Earlier on, I mentioned earnestness in relation to Cave, and the same can be said about the honest portrayal of truth from Forsyth and Pollard. The film would have come across as outrageously pompous and self-serving if there wasn't such a sincerity to it which I found to be thoroughly touching at times.
Now, while I had a lot to admire in 20,000 Days On Earth, there was one issue that I found contention with. It's one that has afflicted a number of different documentaries of recent years, and that is the multimodal approach towards the editing. The film isn't as deeply affected by multimodality as, say, Debtocracy, Collapse or Beware Of Mr. Baker, but it still has a negative impact on the overall picture. Making it a multimodal piece is at odds with the 'narrative' concept of the picture, ensuring that it lacks the consistency which makes a great documentary become a masterpiece. When I think of the best documentaries of the past five years, things like Anvil! The Story Of Anvil, Burma VJ: Reporting From A Closed Country, Restrepo, Senna, Into The Abyss The Act Of Killing, all of these films have a central concept that drives it forward, and they through with it right to the bitter end. Don't get me wrong, I think that a lot of the time editor Jonathan Amos does a fine job cutting the film, so I wouldn't lay it at his feet, but Forsyth and Pollard obviously decided to include these digressions, which, while on paper maybe seem appropriate, in execution work to quite the opposite effect. It's a shame, but that is the case here, and detracts this from being a better film than it should be.
That being said, despite my issue with some of the multimodal aspects of the film, which I do think detract from the overall piece, 20,000 Days On Earth is still a great documentary, be you a Nick Cave fan or not. We get a behind-the-scenes look at the making of Push The Sky Away, but there is also a strong 'narrative' drive that aims to back up the mythology that Cave has developed around himself in his artistry. Cave himself gives a great performance of 'Nick Cave playing a semi-autobiographical version of Nick Cave,' wading through his 'archives' and pondering, contemplating in various guises his life. It's a well-shot picture by Erik Wilson, the music is, of course, terrific, with Warren Ellis also contributing a score alongside The Bad Seeds' Push The Sky Away album, and Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard have a clear aesthetic direction of where they are taking this, which is to a very good place indeed.
The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 8.5/10
The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Itched