A month or two back, I saw the Nick Cave documentary, 20,000 Days on Earth. I’m a huge fan of Cave’s music, but I wasn’t really interested in him as portrayed by the film. But it was a great movie, reminding me of My Winnipeg, Guy Maddin’s ‘docu-fantasia’ about the Canadian city.
The film is particularly strange to watch as a Brighton resident. Having Nick Cave move to the city and seeing him about still seems weird – particularly when he’s doing things that seem out-of-character with his artistic persona. The editing of the film makes for some odd geography too. Cave spends much of the film as a sort-of mystic taxi driver, giving lifts to other celebrities. He’ll do things like drive West from the old pier and arrive at the Marina. Zenbullets had similar problems: “Watched (and loved) the Nick Cave film last night. Although as a Brightonian I was distracted wondering where he parks around Brunswick.”
(Back in 2004, The Argus had an article on “Rock king Cave” supporting plans to turn the West Pier into a jungle. His friend Doug Leitch was quoted as saying “Nick has this thing about wisteria but I don’t know if it would grow.” Cave was apparently concerned about any pier redevelopment opening the way for developers: “I watched my home town of Melbourne, which was designed on the Brighton model, destroyed in a few years“. It looks as if we will indeed be seeing a redeveloped, commercialised West Pier cultural quarter)
Much of the film is invention. The office Cave uses is, apparently, a set; the heavily-staffed archives of Cave’s life are a means of interviewing without a tedious question/answer format. The film’s makers said in interview that the movie was a fiction that aimed to produce deeper truths. At one point,Cave says about his songs, “It’s a world I’m creating… one where god actually exists,” and the film creates an interesting world around Brighton.
(The sort of imaginary worlds Nick Cave talks about are called paracosms, and there’s a lovely article on them in the NYT: “It’s a paradox that the artists who have the widest global purchase are also the ones who have created the most local and distinctive story landscapes“. One of Cave’s most peculiar works is Bunny Munro, a story set around the outskirts of Brighton. I never expected a character of his to utter the words “Is Newhaven a nice place, Dad?“)
Asked about why he is in Brighton, Cave replies that he used to visit from London. “It was always cold and it was always raining [but] you’ve got to drop anchor somewhere“. Nick Cave has an obsessive love of weather. As an Australian, he found himself upset by the “relentless miserable weather that England has”. Keeping weather diaries was a way of taking control of this, since bad weather is better to write about.
“The sky in Brighton is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Living by the sea and looking out of my windows, I feel like am part of the weather itself. Sometimes the sky is so blue and the reflection of the sea so dazzling you can’t even look at it; and other times great black thunderheads roll across the ocean… Funnily enough the more I write about the weather the worse it seems to get and the more interesting it becomes and the more it moulds itself to the narrative I have set for it. You know I can control the weather with my moods. I just can’t control my moods.“
(It was also funny to hear that Cave uses a similar writing technique to me: “Then you send in a clown on a tricycle. If that doesn’t do it, you shoot the clown“)