Musician Nick Cave is no stranger to cinema, having performed in, written scores for, and scripted screenplays for movies which bear his signature brooding trademark. In this fictionalised day in the life rockumentary, Cave offers tantalising glimpses into what it feels like to be a contemporary, living rock icon. And yet ...
And yet. These glimpses are fleeting, dreamlike - flash insights during psychoanalysis, or discussions with former collaborators in his car, surreal and wry subversions of the chats one might have with a cabbie, if the cabbie's guvnor was Martin Scorsese. And if the cabbie was Nick Cave, and the passengers Ray Winstone and Kylie Minogue. You get the picture. The Freudian analogy one might draw from the driver/passenger scenarios is surely something Cave is all too aware of, the revelations which follow falling into a deliberately contrived tableau. Cave co-wrote the film with directors Iain Forsythe and Jane Pollard, so he is playing a game with us: our insights will not compromise him, but feed his mystique. He is the purveyor of a musical, cinematic language which draws us in, but keeps us chasing meaning. His reflections on ideas and the transience of truth as they relate to the artist may come towards the end of the film, but they are laced throughout. They also inspire the audience to take more risks in their own lives. As one of only two people in the cinema on a Monday afternoon, it felt like this was a personal invocation. Again, as his mate Kylie says, isn't that what all performers want their audience to think?! That the message is for them and them alone?! Aargh. He got me.
Anyway. I get ahead of myself. The film opens with an infants wail, feedback, and a succession of images symbolising each and everyone of his titular 20,000 days. We then hear Cave discuss the 'cannibalism' he believes is inherent to creativity, suggestive of a guilt or emotional vampirism which has been at the heart of many a writer's moral anxieties. That his wife Susie only appears in reflections, glimpses and old photographs is an interesting element, echoing his own elusiveness. He remains frustratingly close and yet absent. But, to paraphrase Hannibal's Will Graham, this is his design.
Another presence/absence in the film is the influence of Freud. Who doesn't love to play with the father of psychoanalysis and his theories?! And who better than Cave to do so?! We learn of Cave's father reading extracts from Lolita, his relationship to religion when a junkie, watch him chew the fat with long-time collaborator Warren Ellis, and see him and his band perform. Each scene provides a sense of psychodrama and theatre, lurching from one moment to another without warning and yet with a lucid skein of truth connecting them. If it sounds pretentious, don't fear. The same droll humour present in Cave's music is here, dragging the film away from a risk of navel gazing. One of the funniest moments for me, was watching the bearded, slightly mad-eyed Warren Ellis conducting a choir of French kids during the recording of 'Push the Sky Away'. Superb.
Cave's adopted home of Brighton also features heavily, looking poetic and moody whilst being soundtracked by Cave and Ellis. In this aspect, and its apparent search for a creative truth, the film recalled the recent Pulp documentary for me. Life, Death and Supermarkets also contrived to move away from the pedestrian onstage/talking heads rockumentary format favoured by many bands. In Pulp's case, the film looked outside the musicians and to their hometown for clues about their creative process; with Cave's latest project, we are - apparently - venturing further into the auteur's mind. But this in itself is an artifice - everything is precisely scripted and choreographed. The film's beauty and success owes much to the balance struck between preserving Cave's enigma and still conveying his essence - precisely the 'counterpoint' he mentions which is vital to a song's success. And which again recalls our man Sigmund - we can never truly know the unconscious, and Cave delights in this ambivalence.
There are some moving moments - he admits to fearing memory loss, which he worries would deaden his imaginative designs, and the terror in his eyes is naked. The sense of transformation he speaks of when he performs is portrayed startlingly by the directors in a closing montage of 20 plus years of concert footage, before we see Cave back on Brighton beach, the tide coming in. Again, the symbolism is clear; he is after all, an ageing musician and there is a touch of Prospero to this final scene.
Thankfully though, this is not the end for Cave. Cryptic and mesmerising, with beautiful cinematography, this is a sublime addition to the Cave canon which makes no bones about his compulsion to write and play. What a fascinating and clever man he is and thank goodness we have him.
The rockumentary is dead. Long live the rockumentary.