Film Review: 20,000 Days on Earth

Putting The Muse In Music

The Witching Hours of certain week nights on BBC Radio 1 in the years 1997-1999 were haunted by the ethereal comedy genius known as Chris Morris in the simulacrum of a comedy show called ‘Blue Jam’. Though it was created as if it was a psychological experiment gigging to your subconscious only, a mixture of rolling/looping trip-hop, slow almost womb like beats, metamorphosing from music, to eerie drones or un-qualifiable sounds and then seamlessly to very dark surreal comedy pieces, all at a deliberate tempo/beat that encouraged sleep, thus dissolving the gates of clarity and enabling free running in the REM (rapid eye movement) fields of your mind. It was a stunning experience, if you let yourself drift off into it that is.

I’ve no idea if directors Iain Forsyth, Jane Pollard and their subject musician Nick Cave were fans of that radio series, or even knew about it, but the opening hypnotic drone sound of their new documentary ‘20,000 Days on Earth’ (2014) instantly triggered these subconscious memories, almost replicating Caves creative process and returned from their mind pilgrimage of many years, saturated with surreal tales of splendour, ready to be translated into new mediums, and shared with the universe. The meandering/morphing approach of Blue Jam seemed also to be the most appropriate visual approach to presenting this aural sculpting process, sculpture that we touch with our ears, eyes, hearts but ultimately our reflectiveness and lives.

The documentary is indeed based on the lead singer of The Bad Seeds and how many days he has gone walk about on planet Earth, though more so on the creative process and pursuit of the elements that will form their latest album ‘Push The Sky Away’. These ‘elements’ will include memories, experiences, travels, people, loves, losts, lusts, knowledge (especially weather forecasts), ignorance, awareness, trust and faith in ones ability to communicate with the influences from the other vast muse galaxies in our minds, and around us on a daily basis. But rather than presenting this process in a linear approach, which is a constructed artificial device, we have many influences contributing at once, working on parallels at the same time, where creatives (Cave) feline like parkour between said levels.

Having said that, the format is almost the life of Nick Cave but spread across a single very surreal day with some guest appearances. All of it is true, but none of it is real. Moments are beautifully created to represent memories, processes, situations or influences, but they somehow become clearer by being representations rather than actual. As the human memory is so inherently flawed, maybe this approach is more digestible, realistic version of our so called real world.

Interspersed with moments of almost musical divinity when the band are playing raw unfinished tracks from the new album, where the only valid place to be watching these scenes is in a cinema in space, where you could be released from your seat to float free to rise with the soaring emotion of the songs before you. It’s also very funny in that Cave is the consummate orator and raconteur, blending anecdotes of beauty and hilarity with ferocity, the primal and the base. His love to the hunting of the song, only to lose any interest once he has caught, tamed, domesticated it, and a stunning archive that shows a cacophony of influence, from religion to porn.

This is a beautiful ostentatious visual delight of a movie. It’s about a man, a band, a life, our lives, who were are and who we choose to be. The power of creativity, pursuit, redemption and somehow being truer to ourselves by ignoring reality. Besides all that, Nicks description of the first time he saw his wife to be Susie Bick is worth the price of admission alone, and then years of repeated viewings after.


‘20,000 Days on Earth ’ is out now.