After the Nick Cave documentary-feature “20,000 Days on Earth” made its premiere at Sundance earlier this month, the film picked up a pair of honors at the film festival’s 2014 awards ceremony, for directing and editing.
It was appropriate, really, for a narrative that tackles both Cave as a contemporary songwriter and as a subject with a legendary past, a man and his myth: the film needed impeccable direction and shrewd editing.
Directors Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard, friends and former collaborators of Cave’s, began filming during the songwriter’s sessions for newest album “Push the Sky Away,” and yet sought to tell the story of his artistic journey to now. Instead of setting Cave down with journalists and letting talking heads talk, they paired him with a psychoanalyst and historical archivists. They didn’t reveal the end of the album-making process, but the sweet banalities and live-recording environments that make a Cave & The Bad Seeds record. And they didn’t film separate interviews with former colleagues like Kylie Minogue and Blixa Bargeld a cozy room: they put them in a car with Cave and they talked as he drove.
The latter — with Bargeld — was particularly captivating on screen, as the two awkwardly and sincerely talk about how a co-founding member of the Bad Seeds “left the band with a two line email that he sent to me. Then he was just gone.” Bargeld had been performing with Cave for 20 years, when he quit the band unexpectedly 10 years ago.
“There was this sudden snatching of this character out of my life on a grand scale,” Cave said during our interview in Park City after the film’s debut. “I hadn’t even seen him since then… God knows why he agreed to do it… it ended up being a really beautiful thing. When I see Blixa in that car, my heart leaps as well. And I’m reminded what an incredibly powerful presence that this guy was.”
Forsyth and Pollard also expounded on other larger-than-life characters in Cave’s “bigger story” when it came to Susie Bick, Cave’s wife since 1997, but they did it by pulling back. Cave goes into delicious detail about the first time he’d met her, and yet her face is always obscured or her back is turned in the film, just as her appearance on the cover of “Push the Sky Away” features her hands covering her face.
“It felt right to have her in the way that she’s reflected and refracted in Nick’s songs and particularly this album. It felt right to do that in the film, to not take that step into factual or reality and reduce her to this real person. She lives in the songs, and the presence she has, what she means to Nick, is magical. It’s bigger than life, it’s more imaginative,” Pollard explained. Forsyth continued: “The more present she was in the film, the less that we really discovered about her. In the end, it was almost all taken away.”
“20,000 Days on Earth” also became an opportunity for Cave to combine with Warren Ellis for an all-new soundtrack, a score which Pollard insists should “live on in some way.” Between the extra footage for the film, the additional music from the “Push” sessions, the Opera House concert and small gig live performances in the movie, and the Ellis/Cave score, fans should hope for, at least, some interesting DVD extras.
“It just sort of slowly emerged to become a bigger thing. I realized this wasn’t a film about me, it was something beyond a conventional celebrity documentary,” Cave said about how the filmmaking team made his jam-packed fictional 20,000th day on Earth so unorthodox. Celebrity documentaries do so rarely wade into the waters of how artists wish to be remembered, for instance; in a scene where he’s surrounded by scrapbooks and photographs and film, Cave cheekily suggests saving some for the “Nick Cave Memorial Museum,” just as, in 2009, he joked about that gold statue to be erected in his likeness Australian home town.
So, I’ll bite: how does Nick Cave wish to be memorialized after he’s gone?
“The idea at the moment is that we make a huge gravestone, an extremely big one, and we fund it on Kickstarter. And if you give me £10,000, consider your name engraved on it.”