Nick Cave and his muse
January 24, 2014
The insider one-liners come at you as quick as the black 1980s Jaguar XJ Nick Cave is driving takes a curve or, at other times, almost motionless, slowly tipping over and rolling on their side so as to allow the uninitiated a peek at the birth of this or that specifically-inspired moment.
In "20,000 Days on Earth," currently screening in the World Cinema Documentary competition at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival, filmmakers Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard, in collaboration with their subject, the enigmatic Mr. Cave, pull back the curtain on the legendary musical cult figure’s creative process just enough for us to marvel at the dance going on between him and his muse.
It’s all in the abstract, however. What you bring to the table is directly proportional to what you take away. Not that one who has never crossed paths with the performance or recorded art of Nick Cave would come away from the film empty-headed. It would be almost impossible not to absorb component parts of the quirky vibe that has made Nick Cave the partially-underground "must see" star attraction he has become over time.
Having first been introduced to Nick Cave by documentary filmmaker Lian Lunsen while researching a piece on her 2005 Leonard Cohen Sundance film "I’m Your Man," over time he’s become one of my favorites. She was incredulous that I wasn’t hip to his astounding art. There was even something about the way she said his name that piqued my interest and made me feel like she was giving me an important homework assignment.
So, back on the silver screen the other morning down at the Prospector Theater, here we have Cave, the British-Aussie ex-pat, putting the aforementioned Jaguar through its paces while, seemingly, chauffeuring and conversing with various ghosts from his past, from friends to ex-artistic collaborators to fellow Aussie Kylie Minogue, who filled both roles admirably at one time, especially the former.
There are also elongated scenes with longtime music-mate Warren Ellis who, at least on film, lives in a humble cottage with the White Cliffs of Dover just out his kitchen window. Location, location, location.
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Another segment that weaves in and out of the Nick Cave narrative is a rather long and interesting stint of what is supposedly a session with his therapist. Memories of his father’s death, and, figuratively, losing his virginity (or at least his innocence, or maybe he didn’t lose anything but found something) play out as sidebars to what became a most creative life while making for a quite enjoyable film.
Live music, of course, plays an important role, as it surely must in such a documentary, but this is not your father’s concert film. Not that much of what goes on off-stage doesn’t flaunt a musical sensibility to its core.
A live take of "Higg’s Boson Blues," however, is one of several musical highlights. Any composition that can bring Robert Johnson, Lucifer, Hannah Montana, and Miley Cyrus together under the umbrella of particle physics works well for me. But, hell, that’s not even an inverted aerial for one with a mind as inventive as Nick Cave.
"20,000 Days on Earth" is one of 12 titles in the Sundance Film Festival’s World Cinema Documentary competition and is screening Saturday, Jan. 25, at 11:30 a.m. at Holiday Village Cinema 1, Park City.
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