[Sound and Vision]: 20,000 Days On Earth

20000days “I feel I can control the weather with my moods, I just can’t control my moods is all.”

A life in the day.

As Nick Cave rises early from his bed and opens the shutters on a stormy day towards the beginning of 20,000 Days On Earth, he outlines his daily routine in a conspiratorial interior monologue: “I wake, I write, I eat, I watch TV”. This in itself is a fair synopsis of the film, which charts a fictitious day in the life of Cave as he drives around his chosen hometown of Brighton attending a therapy session, visiting his personal archives and dining with Bad Seed and right-hand man Warren Ellis (whose backwoods svengali appearance is an amusing contrast to Cave’s bank-clerk-cum-preacher manner) before returning home. However, as with much of Cave’s work, much more is conveyed during Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard’s captivating portrait of the mercurial musician than a simple synopsis suggests.

Lying somewhere between straight documentary and psychological drama, 20,000 Days is a mix of orchestrated events and spontaneous conversations, as Cave is placed in situations and conversations that allow him to eloquently muses on his memories, his fears and his creative process. Interspersed throughout are songwriting and recording sessions in Saint-Rémy de Provence for last year’s Bad Seeds record Push The Sky Away (The Grapevine’s Best Album of 2013), offering rare insights into the putative formation of these songs (including a gentle piano ballad which loses its mojo once Ellis notes its similarity to a Lionel Richie song). Elsewhere an enrapturing live performance showcases The Bad Seeds in full messianic flight, Cave seemingly transformed into a lightning rod of a man as a young audience hang enthralled upon his every word.

As Cave drives between encounters he has conversations with friends Ray Winstone, Blixa Bargeld (one of Cave’s primary creative foils over the years, along with Ellis and Mick Harvey) and Kylie Minogue, Cave’s duet partner on The Bad Seeds’s biggest hit, ‘Where The Wild Roses Grow’. They appear unannounced in his car as if figments of his imagination or ghosts, as the film blurs the lines between past and present, fact and fiction. These shifting spaces and temporalities serve not only to relate Cave’s history with an engaging immediacy, but also allow Forsyth and Pollard to focus in on recurring themes of mortality, creativity and spirituality which seem to preoccupy Cave.

Equally as captivating as Cave’s magnetic onscreen personality is the spellbinding cinematography. Shots veer between eye-watering lucidity, vividly capturing subtle gestures and flecks of spray chucked up by a grey sea, and a ponderous, hazy gaze as street lights smear on Cave’s windshield. Simply put, the film is bewitchingly beautiful, and creates the sense that time itself is stretching and warping as the past impinges on the present.

Over the course of 20,000 Days Cave seemingly reveals a lot behind his imposingly slim figure: he explains his songwriting process (“It’s all about counterpoint”) and conveys his fears of not reaching a creative place he is satisfied with; a session with psychoanalyst Darian Leader focuses on his formative experiences with music, girls and the metamorphosing effect of his father reading and explaining the opening chapter of Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita to him; while scouring through the artefacts of his personal archives and talking to old cohorts allows Cave to reminisce on his career and relate anecdotes about Tracey Pew intercepting a pissing stage crasher at a Birthday Party gig, meeting his wife in an art gallery, and introducing a belligerent and terrifying Dr. Nina Simone at the Meltdown Festival he curated in 1999.

Forsyth and Pollard have not merely a created a documentary, but have crafted the most engaging and dynamic way of perceptively exploring what Nick Cave does and how the creative endeavours of mankind in general attempt to tap into something transcendent and beyond ourselves. But for an enigmatic artist whose work distorts the boundaries between the real and supernatural and who has long manipulated his own mythic persona, the question you’re left wondering as the camera floats away from Cave, standing solitary on a twilit Brighton beach, is whether you’ve actually seen behind the curtains, or if you have been speaking to the Wizard of Oz all along?

20,000 Days On Earth is in cinemas now.


[Sound and Vision]: Let’s Get Lost

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“Let’s defrost in a romantic mist / Let’s get crossed off everybody’s list.”

A portrait of the artist as an old man.

Well this article is going to be a bit different as I don’t often do film reviews, despite being a big film fan for most of my life. However, this documentary about Chet Baker really struck a chord with me. Rather than a detailed retrospective, Let’s Get Lost is more of an intimate portrait of the West Coast jazz prodigy who had it all and spent his final years as an itinerant speedball addict in Santa Monica, CA.

Filmed during the last year of Chet Baker’s life, Let’s Get Lost grew out of a photo shoot which director Bruce Weber intended for a short film called Blame It On My Youth. Weber had been interested in Baker since coming across a vinyl LP in a record store in Pittsburgh at the age of 16, becoming infatuated with his music and his iconic James Dean good looks. Over the course of the shoot they grew closer and Baker opened up to Weber, so Weber convinced Baker to make a longer film. Let’s Get Lost became a labour of love for Weber who funded the $1,000,000 production from his own money and filmed it only when he had the time and money to do so. The filming itself was marked by difficulty and spontaneity as Baker’s turbulent life during this period meant that filming plans quickly went out the window when he finally walked in the room: “It was like going to Marine boot camp,” Weber said to the Austin Chronicle. “You’d plan something, and it wouldn’t happen the way you planned it, so you had to adapt to it, just go with it. Sometimes we’d have to stop for some reason or another and then, because Chet was a junkie and couldn’t do things twice, we’d have to start all over again. But we grew to really like him.” Baker would later be found dead on the pavement on Prins Hendrikkade, Amsterdam during the film’s post-production, giving Let’s Get Lost an added poignancy.

The film is beautifully shot in black and white and Weber’s eye as a fashion photographer creates a sweeping and incredibly romantic aura around the whole film. The stars seem to twinkle in the night sky and the palm trees along the beach sway elegantly. Meanwhile Baker, who now resembles a Bukowskian barfly more than the Adonis of his youth, is still remarkably photogenic. The film meanders like a memoir, as Baker reminisces about his music, experiences and relationships while ex-associates and old flames tell their stories. There is little sense of chronology and with another subject such a film may fall apart, but Baker is such a beguiling and effortlessly enigmatic personality that he holds the film together, the linchpin in an otherwise chaotic tale. Let’s Get Lost does follow his career but at a cursory glance, briefly mentioning moments such as playing on Pacific, getting his teeth knocked out and his multiple incarcerations. This does not mean the music is neglected though, as Baker’s enrapturing and languid music is weaved throughout, blending seamlessly with shots of sleepy California and Baker’s escapades of the time. The film also features some incredibly intimate performances, the likes of which cause the hairs to bristle on the back of your neck. Despite the years, Baker’s voice is haunting and pitch-perfect, while his trumpeting is as moving and mellifluous as ever.

What I feel is Let’s Get Lost’s greatest achievement is conveying Baker’s charismatic personality. He is electrifying onscreen, not in an overtly energetic way but in the sheer magnetism he exerts over everyone, the viewer included. He is charming and good looking even after the ravages of substance abuse which make him look ten years older than he actually was at the time. You find yourself falling under his spell, even as his closest friends, lovers and relatives repeatedly disclose to us that he is selfish, unreliable and a great manipulator. But even those most burned by him still adore him, just as the viewer finds themselves drawn to such a lovable rogue. And this is Let’s Get Lost’s main focus: It’s not about setting the record straight, but about staring in awe at such an infatuating personality. As you watch Baker you sense the fascination of that sixteen year-old kid in Pittsburgh and the wonder of those who knew him. “There’s a line between love and fascination,” says ex-lover Ruth Young, quoting the Baker standard ‘My Foolish Heart’. “That’s mystique. But that isn’t necessarily real and that’s what takes a long, long time to figure out: To separate one’s gift from one’s self.” Perhaps Baker never did, and that is what Let’s Get Lost excels in showing.