20,000 Days on Earth

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Publicat în September 21, 2015 , o comentarii

nick-cave-20000-days-on-earthIt all starts with the clicking sound of someone playing a tape which first unleashes the primal scream of a baby. Then you’re treated to a dizzying collage of twangs, voices, music, zings and other noises in a kind of chaos you’d expect from the likes of Stockhausen. Along with it, a reverse countdown from 0 to 20,000 begins. There is some type of chronology in the visual mishmash: the birth of a baby, flashes of the sunny, surf rock 50s, Lolita, moments in history, Johnny Cash, Iggy Pop et al, ending with Cave himself. It’s impossible to capture it all in one hour and roughly 30 minutes. Nevertheless, Nick Cave did an intriguing and delightful enough job with this movie, to say the least.

The camera focuses on the sombre demeanour of Cave in his own private bedroom, already awake as the alarm goes off. His wife, Susie, is still sound asleep. He’s just like the rest of us, you’d think; that is, until the banality of morning and morning routine is broken by a confession of cannibalism. Admittedly, cannibalism of the poetic or lyrical kind (truth be told, since it’s Nick Cave, you can never be 100% sure). Susie seeps into the songs of Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, devoured, mangled beautifully and deftly into what will turn out to be a diffuse replica of herself (or rather, of how her husband sees her). It’s fiction, after all. So, imagine next Cave typing away riotously at his typewriter in the middle of a not—too—spacious room filled to the brim with books, papers, scraps: “shit, but important shit” for him. You can tell he’s in his own world. He’s a writer, first and foremost. But then, inevitably, Cave’s mentally fabricated cocoon of stewing crazy ideas, and his creative process, are disrupted by a telephone call. He is needed at the archive: the Nick Cave Memorial Museum, maybe? What was once wishful thinking has materialised. Fast—forward to a sort of museum. Photos of his childhood and teenagehood projected onto the screen. “Gloomy, gloomy, gloomy”, Cave says, in the blue—tinted scenes and scarce light bring out his youth, not to mention the quirky, recognisable hairdo. But he’s more grown—up in the following pictures. Here’s the oddly dissonant The Birthday Party, in concert, in Cologne. Cave makes sure that everybody in the room hears the story of how the bass player, Tracy Pew, got urinated on that one time. Back in those days, he says, The Birthday Party were seen as the most violent live band in the world. Naturally, this attracted what Cave called “skinheads, bikers, low—life psychopaths”. He doesn’t remember the 80s though. It would be a mark of naive to expect most rockstars who lasted to. He does, however, remember Tracy punching the German public urinator on stage while the rest of the band —largely indifferent to what was happening— played with their backs to the audience (as was their custom, to be clear).

While the 80s have been mostly erased from Cave’s mind, purposely or not, he forks out some significant moments with his therapist (Darian). There are several intermissions throughout the movie that feature really touchy and private stories divulged by Cave. You learn, or perhaps get reminded that memory is all we have. He delves into the art itself, claiming that the key is counterpoint. He says it as if what has just been revealed is not just the key to writing a good song, but the key to his whole life. Taking two ostensibly incompatible elements, putting them in the same room, and watching closely what happens. In the case of Cave’s earlier days, you have the church, Christian values, and self-destruction. Around the time he met his current wife, Susie, he would go to church only to come home and do drugs. It was meant to create a semblance of balance in his life: a bit of good mixed with a bit of bad. Susie, the love of his life and presumably an important component of his songwriting activities. To Cave, Susie embodies everything and everyone he’s ever been captivated by: “Jenny Agutter, Anita Ekberg, Ali McGraw, Barbara Eden, Elizabeth Montgomery and Abigail, Miss World competitions, Marilyn Monroe and Jennifer Jones and Bo Derek and Angie Dickinson, Maria Falconetti and Suzi Quatro, Bolshoi ballerinas and Russian gymnasts, Wonder Woman, Barbarella, page 3 girls, endless possible fantasies …”

But for a man seemingly so self—assured, and discreet about his personal life, these brief but poignant moments are to be cherished and paid attention to. Without revealing too much, I’ll also say that he makes for an engaging raconteur, too. For instance, he talks of a Teddy Duchamp (Corey Feldman in Stand by Me) episode, long ago, when he dodged trains in Wangaratta. Train—dodging, for the uninitiated, consists in standing still on the train tracks or running towards an oncoming train, not jumping right out of its path until the very last moment. It doesn’t really get more punk rock than that.

Nick Cave, the Nick Cave we see and know now, lives in Brighton where the weather takes its cues from his moods. Shots of beautiful Brighton pepper the film fairly often. During the day, it looks like the sort of resort you’d want to spend your holiday in forever. At night, however, it turns into a place specifically designed to shoot film noir. You can almost picture a surreptitious Veronica Lake or Ingrid Bergman taking a lonely stroll on the pier, with Robert Mitchum smoking undisturbed. A bit of good mixed with a bit of bad: you perhaps see why Cave chose this seaside resort as his home.

He used to document the weather, too, albeit it wasn’t the Brighton weather. Keeping a journal — a weather journal— every day of the weather until, by his own admission, it became something else. It was an “imaginative exercise”, spreading its monomaniacal tentacles into other territories. He doesn’t go in depth about what the journals eventually morphed into, besides fiction, arguably because even for this project, a move like that would have been too probing. Given the staccato style of the film, it’s difficult to cover its most valiant scenes without probably omitting noteworthy fragments. Even so, I doubt it wouldn’t be a matter of contention if the “barn” performances wouldn’t be noted; a few songs played in a studio with only the band present. They definitely enrich whatever overall view you might have previously had of Push the Sky AwayHiggs Boson Blues stands out in particular, and is a keen exercise in tepid intensity and subdued distress. But Nick Cave is a performer, and what you see in the studio is not what you see on stage. Jubilee Street in front of a few thousand people is nothing short of explosive. Cave goes from being a crooner to a rock n roll animal. Indeed, the best part about this rock business is performing live. It’s transcendental. That’s where you see and feel Cave “glowing”, “vibrating”. He’s Nina Simone, after getting her sausages, cocaine and champagne before an outstanding concert— Simone’s transformation being something that Cave seems fascinated with and talks about it with Warren Ellis (multi—instrumentalist) over a plate of eels.

At any rate, it truly doesn’t matter much if you’re enamoured with Nick Cave’s music or you dislike it. This film delves a good deal into what being a songwriter is and requires, not to mention that it shows us a glimpse of an otherwise private performer’s personal life. The point is that 20,000 Days on Earth can very well appeal to a large mass of people irrespective of their fondness or aversion of and to Nick Cave. It’s well—worth giving a shot.

Carla Baktai

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