20,000 Days on Earth – Film Review

For a 10.30am screening of 20,000 Days on Earth, it was surprising that I cried for such an extended time throughout the picture. Perhaps now for some reason, located across the world in my hometown of Sydney, I longed for those endless drives that traversed the white, famously suicidal cliffs lining the road from Eastbourne to Brighton. This scenery featured regularly as Nick’s backdrop in his artfully captured biopic. It was affecting for me for our geographical similarities, as I had recently “dropped my anchor” in the UK for a period of time, where I had had the pleasure of catching Nick Cave performing in our common base of Brighton.

The film begins with flickering found-footage images of childhood photos, big-haired youthful punk gigs – to performing on highly regarded stages, ticking through the 20,000 days of Cave. It continues candidly capturing the life of the current day singer. We see him chauffeur friends like Kylie Minogue past the iconic Brighton Pier, the pair retelling stories of their time together in work and play. We also spend an afternoon with Cave and exponentially talented, multi-instrumentalist, Bad Seeds band-mate and total ledge, Warren Ellis, as the pair share a plate of eels in Ellis’ Sussex homestead.

As much as this is a reflection of Cave’s life, those of importance do make passing cameos. Cave’s wife Susie is portrayed minimally, reflected in a window or mirror, or as a mop of hair buried in a mess of white sheets – seen in the picture as she has been within his life, detached from the public eye. I particularly loved the poetic way in which Cave was reflecting about meeting his wife, saying that seeing her for the first time at the V&A in London was ‘the end to an endless dripfeed of erotic data’. The transcribed script from the film could have easily filled pages of an autobiography, creating an inviting read for fans sans the imagery due to Cave’s great ability as a captivating wordsmith.

20,000 Days on Earth fittingly runs more like a collage than a film with a natural beginning and end. Segments have been smattered together with little relevance to what came before. It works well with the scenes wherein which Cave flicks through sporadic diary entries, or forgotten photo albums from his vast archive. The development of his image and persona from a rambunctious punk with audience members pissing on stage at his Birthday Party gigs to sharing a pizza at home with his sons playing the ‘normal dad’ role was interesting to watch. Between digging through varied memories, the viewers are treated to performances of Cave’s songs from is recent record, Push The Sky Away. A gruelling acoustic performance of Higgs Boston Blues let me weep a little more, and the rendition of Jubilee Street that climatically closed the film was every bit as engaging as when I saw it performed myself.

It’s a rock and roll documentary unlike others thanks to creators’ Jane Pollard and Iain Forsyth’s experience in the arts as well as filmography. Also, their familiarity and comfort with the singer is obvious and seems unforced due to their long-term attachment to Nick Cave through previous collaborations with music videos and short films. The end product, 20,000 Days on Earth is a film that I would happily recommend for viewing to all fans of Cave, musicians or even those who knew little of the singer, even if you aren’t sobbing by the ending credit scenes that observe the man drifting off Brighton beach, it’s likely that that you will be affected at some level, more so than the bog standard rock biopic.



Review by Carol Bowditch



20,000 Days on Earth is out from 21st August and you can see it in the following Australian cinemas: NSW – Dendy Newtown, Palace Norton Street, Palace Verona // ACT – Palace Electric // VIC – Cinema Nova, Classic Elsternwick, Kino Cinema, Palace Como // QLD – Palace Centro // SA – Palace Nova Eastend // TAS – State Cinema // WA – Luna Leederville