20,000 Days on Earth documentary review: how to make art and live life

20,000 Days on Earth green light

An unclassifably weird hybrid of documentary, fiction, and stream-of-consciousness meditation on the creative life, according to Renaissance man Nick Cave.
I’m “biast” (pro): nothing

I’m “biast” (con): nothing

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

I’m not a particular fan of unclassifiably weird musician-Renaissance man Nick Cave: I’ve always liked his stuff when I’ve stumbled across it, but I’ve never particularly sought it out, and I’m certainly not in a league with the fans in the grip of religious Cave ecstasy we glimpse here. But if my experience is any guide, you don’t need to be that sort of Cave fan to find yourself utterly riveted by the unclassifably weird 20,000 Days on Earth, a deliciously odd hybrid of documentary, fiction, and stream-of-consciousness meditation on the creative process and living a creative life, according to Nick Cave. Art filmmakers and frequent Cave collaborators Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard have structured a faux narrative about a day in the life of the artist that is merely an excuse for him to explain for us how to write a song, how music can make you godlike, the connection between religion and drugs, and how the crazy weather in Brighton, England (where the Australian Cave lives now), inspires him. Lots of documentary-esque films about artists are kinda like sitting in on therapy sessions, but 20,000 Days goes whole hog and lets us sit in on a (fake but illuminating) therapeutic discussion between Cave and his “shrink” (actually philosopher Alain De Botton) about sex, fear, and reinventing the creative self. In between, we get to hang out with Cave and some of his famous friends as they talk about their work, and eavesdrop on jam sessions and musical performances for fans. Often funny and frequently surreal, this is one of the most compulsively watchable rambles through the indefinable — art, inspiration, life — that I’ve ever seen.

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