"What performance is to me is finding a way to tempt the monster to come to the surface."
The above words, quoted by Australian musician and writer Nick Cave, come near the end of 20,000 Days on Earth, but they rather succinctly express the essence of the film and Nick Cave’s artistic career. There is an elusive quality to the wild, emotionally unhinged music of this eccentric artist that feels akin to a dormant monster coming to life upon every encounter. The energy of the performances devours the audience. Directors Iain Forsyth & Jane Pollard’s uncategorizable film looks beyond that energy, beyond the surface, to find the monster.
20,000 Days on Earth is a kind of a documentary film, clearly transferring elements of Cave’s life directly to the screen, but its hyper-stylized aesthetic and fictionalized recreations of scenes from his life make the film as hypnotic an experience as listening to the music that inspired it. Covering a short span of time during the recording of Cave’s latest album, 2013’s “Push the Sky Away”, the film begins with a dialogue by the singer that immediately suggests something deeper and more peculiar that the run of the mill music documentary. The disturbing imagery produced with a simple concave mirror in Cave’s bathroom is reminiscent of the best of body horror cinema, reflecting the intensity of his music.
Cave is no stranger to cinema, of course, having composed music for films like Andrew Dominic’s The Assassination of Jesse James and penned the screenplay for John Hillcoat’s Lawless. Co-incidentally, a conversation with a former bandmate is filmed with such heightened stylization that it wouldn’t be completely out of place in a crime film like Dominik’s Killing Them Softly. His cinematic sensibility lends a visual quality to his live shows that elevate it beyond theatricality.