From the ferocious Birthday Party concerts of the 1970s and ’80s to the release of last year’s soothingly sorrowful Bad Seeds album Push the Sky Away, Nick Cave has always been an artist whose work defies easy categorization.
The Australian rocker’s fearsome appearance — think Elvis Presley reincarnated as a fire-breathing, Goth-punk troubadour with a voice so deep it’s practically bottomless — belies an incredibly eclectic range of influences: the puckish poetry of Leonard Cohen, the soul-baring ballads of Nina Simone, the death-haunted last testaments of Johnny Cash. His lyrics suffused with a heady brew of the sacred and profane, Nick Cave can transform himself from lecherous lounge lizard to sulfur-tongued preacher over the course of a single song.
Cave, a notoriously elusive presence offstage, would at first seem an unlikely subject for a documentary. Thankfully, the new film 20,000 Days on Earth, now playing in select theaters, isn’t interested in simply venerating him, dissecting his creative process or even peering into his private life as a family man and recovering heroin addict. Instead, the movie, helmed by first-time feature directors Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard and featuring scenes scripted by Cave himself, ambitiously blends fact and fiction to form a freewheeling, hallucinatory account of the musician’s twenty-thousandth day of life, the same day he began recording Push the Sky Away. The end result is simultaneously an extension of Cave’s own self-styled mythology, a daring exploration of the limits of artistic control and a fluid meditation on memory’s ability to imbue existence with the semblance of meaning.
The night that Mary Shelley later described as the moment she came up with the idea for Frankenstein, rightfully regarded as one of the greatest…