We take a look at the career of Nick Cave; screenwriter, composer and performer

This week, 20,000 DAYS ON EARH comes to Volta. The film stars Nick Cave as a slightly fictionalised version of himself, as he goes about a seemingly average day. The day in question, however, is notable since it is the 20,000th since Cave was born, and the film takes us on a journey through the life of the performer, writer and composer, as he interacts with friends, family, and licensed professionals…

20,000 DAYS ON EARTH is a funny and fascinating documentary film by Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard. The film takes as its focus Cave’s music, creating a fictionalised version of his everyday life in his adopted home of Brighton as a way to access his creative interests and habits. We see Cave and bandmate Warren Ellis collaborate closely in the run-up to the creation of the latest album by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – Push the Sky Away – bringing a song from the first jottings in Cave’s notebook through its studio recording to a final live performance in Sydney’s Opera House. There is great uplift and surprise in Cave’s openness and honesty, about the insecurity behind his creation of his intimidating musical persona, about the rush of performing live, and about the routinely obsessive diligence required to produce any body of work. The film manages to be genuinely amusing, exciting and engrossing while almost entirely avoiding one significant aspect of his creative life: movies.

Even if Nick Cave wasn’t “Nick Cave” he’d be noteworthy for his contribution to films as a screenwriter, composer, and occasionally onscreen performer. His strongest partnership in cinema is with director John Hillcoat, with whom he co-wrote GHOSTS OF THE CIVIL DEAD, and featured as an actor. Cave also wrote the scripts for Hillcoat’s later films, THE PROPOSITION and LAWLESS. Oddly, perhaps his most famous writing credit is for the legendary unmade (and perhaps unmakeable) sequel to Ridley Scott’s GLADIATOR, in which Russell Crowe’s Maximus would be resurrected by the gods only to have to fight his way through history to the present!

As an actor, he’s made memorable cameos in a number of films, usually as a musician: as himself along with his band, the Bad Seeds, in Wim Wenders’ WINGS OF DESIRE; as the cigarette-scabbing musician Freak Storm alongside Brad Pitt in JOHNNY SUEDE; and as a wandering troubadour peddling myths in Andrew Dominik’s powerful THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD, for which Cave composed the haunting score with Warren Ellis.
Indeed Cave and Ellis have together produced memorable scores for a number of films mentioned above, including THE PROPOSITION and LAWLESS, as well as for THE ROAD, DIAS DE GRACIAS (Days Of Grace), WEST OF MEMPHIS, and the upcoming LOIN DES HOMMES.

Cave’s deep love for film is just as apparent in his music, in characters, plot, and mood which are pulpy and patently cinematic. It’s obvious also in his openness to the inventive process adopted by Forsyth and Pollard in 20,000 DAYS ON EARTH, as they gleefully fuse aspects of Cave’s real life with staged moments that pass as authentic, inscribing the mythologising already present in Cave’s songs and the self-mythologising in his musical persona into a biography that somehow both humanises Cave and makes his work seem all the more impressive. 20,000 DAYS ON EARTH is for anyone who is a fan of effort, wit and creativity, as much as for fans of the effort, wit and creativity of Nick Cave.


20,000 DAYS ON EARTH is available to stream on Volta.ie here

Words: Tony McKiver