Catch “20,000 Days On Earth”, a rock documentary that glimpses deep into the artistic life of the usually private, often described as taciturn Australian-born musician Nick Cave. The film will screen next week as part of the 57th San Francisco International Film Festival. Shot like a film noir with Cave as narrator, the stylized documentary won recent Sundance honors for editing as well as directing. Though it reveals something of Cave's creative genius, the film uncannily also preserves the mythology surrounding him.
"20,000 Days On Earth" refers to the length of time Cave had noted he has been on this earth when he embarked on "Push The Sky Away" the 15th album from Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds. It will have two screenings at the SFIFF. The festival kicked off with much fanfare yesterday at The Castro Theatre with it's Opening Night feature "Two Faces Of January" starring Viggo Mortensen and Kristen Dunst, followed by a party at the new Mission event-space Public Works.
SFIFF's “Live & On Stage” series at The Castro Theatre has two offerings this year. It presents Bay Area musician "Thao And The Get Down Stay Down" performing a live soundtrack, set to the films of Charlie Chaplain on Tuesday, April 29. And also "Stephen Merritt With The Unknown" which pairs the musician from indie band, The Magnetic Fields with a new score to accompany Tod Brownings 1927 classic silent film, "The Unknown"on Tuesday, May 6. "The Unknown" stars a very young, Joan Crawford and a villain with three thumbs.
For film buffs, other stand-out films worth noting are "The Double" directed by comedian, Richard Ayoade whose first film directing debut was the Alex Turner-soundtracked charm of a film, "Submarine"; "Last Weekend" starring Patricia Clarkson as an aging matriarch who takes her family up to her Lake Tahoe manor for a last farewell; and the James Franco penned "Palo Alto". The latter is a stunning coming-off-age feature told with the deft and measured hand of exciting newcomer, Gia Coppola. The slow-burn careening off-the- cliff that the young Nat Wolff 's character effuses is palpable. Like in the book, the action unfolds in a series of overlapping vignettes but on the big screen it bears the mark of European films where each character and their inner conflicts are quiet studies that allow tension to simmer rather than pop its lid. Among the young cast are Jack Kilmer, Olivia Crocicchia and Emma Roberts who all give fantastic turns, in this teen-angst film soundtracked by Dev Hynes and Robert Schwartzman, that should resonate brilliantly with all.
The festival also has a hefty international component for fans of foreign cinema. There is India's Amit Dutta's metaphysical inquiry "The Seventh Walk" - where mysterious footsteps beckons a painter, curiously into his own paintings, in this visually stunning piece. And the Iranian political thriller "Manuscripts Don't Burn" about the country's intellectuals, the Draconian measures that stifle their work and Secret Service harassments they endure in their quotidian.
From Europe, there is “Young & Beautiful” which fleshes out a young girl’s 'first time' and in a manner only the French can, how she then decides to choose this new-found come-hither appeal to join the oldest profession. From director Francois Ozon, the narrative unfolds over a space of four seasons and four Francoise Hardy chansons. Also from France is the delightful "Chinese Puzzle" which re-engages the characters from the Erasmus program. Cedric Klapisch's third in the series which began with "The Spanish Apartment" and continued with "Russian Dolls", places Romain Duris' character now in New York. He is in circumstances just as complicated but as always is motivated by love, this time for his children.
There is an overwhelming plethora of great films assembled in the program this year, helmed by the new Executive Director for the San Francisco Film Society, Mr Noah Cowan. The films are screened at the Sundance Kabuki Cinemas, Castro Theatre and New People Cinema, as well as at the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley. For a full program, showtimes, tickets and further details, visit their website www.sffs.org. And also consider being a Film Society member for special screenings throughout the year and during the festival, special advance tickets and SFIFF Members Night.
For music fans, we have compiled a list of the Top 7 films that you should not miss at the 57th SFIFF.
Top 7 films for music fans at 57th SFIFF / No 1 - '20,000 Days On Earth'
Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds have a cult following. However, they have by no means crossed over into the mainstream even though “Where The Wild Roses Grow” his duet with fellow Aussie dance and pop diva, Kylie Minogue did.
He also received some measure of mainstream success with his 1994 track “Red Right Hand” used on the soundtrack to “The Scream” trilogy of films. It has since been covered by jazz musician, Frank Bennett; Brit indie rockers, Arctic Monkeys; and US skate rockers FIDLAR.
The success and brilliance of this documentary is largely thanks to Brit film-makers and visual artists - Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard. They are part of Cave’s inner circle, hence we become privy to his world too. In Cave’s own words, he was “being blindly told what to do.”
To get him to reveal more from questioning than your average music journalist, they use the device of a couch session with a psychoanalyst – British author, Darian Leader. It is a device so hackneyed, you wonder why Cave plays along but he does in his cool self-effacing way with surprising results. The truth is Leader too is part of the inner milieu. He is good friends with the filmmakers.
From this cocoon, Cave emerges with information about his first sexual experience, his religious beliefs and his drug-addled days. A recurring image is also that of him driving through Brighton, England where he now lives. Unexpected guests appear like spectre's chatting candidly with him. They include Minogue of course; actor Ray Winstone who worked on "Proposition" the film Cave wrote the screenplay for; and the wonderful Blixa Bargeld – a founding member of the Bad Seeds. Cave had not seen Bargeld in 10 years after a two-line e-mail he sent Cave informing of his departure from the band.
The film unfolds over 24hrs like a dreamy day-in-the-life but cleverly covers the entire lifecycle of his 2013 album, “Push The Sky Away”. And ahead of his concert at the Fillmore in July to support this album, the film should not be missed. It reveals something of his artistic process but also keeps the myth surrounding this poet of an artist, which should be a delight for fans of music, art and film.
Kabuki: Mon, April 28 at 9.45pm
New People: Thurs, May 1 at 6.15pm
Top 7 films for music fans at 57th SFIFF / No 2 - 'Frank'
Going down a more kooky path is the unmissable black comedy, “Frank”. Long before, Arcade Fire decided to do the 'unexpected' and don their flashy bobble heads, there was the true original, Frank Sidebottom.
The alter-ego of Mancunian musician Chris Sievey, Sidebottom was notorious for wearing a giant papier-mache head when he performed. A true British eccentric, he travelled as far as Japan delivering his brand of music and comedy in the ‘80s, sometimes alongside punk-poet John Cooper Clarke. At his prime, Sidebottom was opening for Bros and Gary Glitter.
According to The Guardian newspaper, “His gigs were unpredictable, shambolic affairs, often involving audience participation, puppets, references to Sievey's home village of Timperley, and the mauling of popular hits such as "I Should Be So Lucky" and "Anarchy in the UK"."
The film which stars Michael Fassbender, Maggie Gylenhaal and Domhnall Gleeson (last seen opposite Rachel MacAdams in "About Time") is directed by Irishman, Lenny Abrahamson. It is based on the memoir by Welsh author, Jon Ronson who spent some time playing keyboards for Sidebottom while he was studying Journalism in London.
Ronson who had a childhood love for outré space-rockers such as David Bowie and Captain Beefheart felt the lure of being on-the-road and living the life of a rockstar much more than his Journalism studies, that he actually left college. He followed SideBottom to Manchester and became part of Sidebottom’s Oh Blimey! Big Band for three years.
Kabuki Theatre: Sat, April 26 at 9.15pm
Kabuki Theatre: Mon, April 28 at 4pm
Top 7 films for music fans at 57th SFIFF / No 3 - 'Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon'
Mike Meyers of Austin Powers “yeah baby” fame directs this documentary about towering industry legend, Shep Gordon. He was instrumental in managing the careers of some very successful acts of the 1970s and 1980s. It was to his credit that they were as different as chalk and cheese – from the sex and shock-rock of Alice Cooper; to the squeaky clean Anne Murray; and the soul singer, Teddy Pendergrass. Each charge he handled with equal aplomb. But he also recognized that the fame game brought no good where "the ones who rose to the top got hurt the most"and for a long time since, has set about just being Tibetan in the way he helps others. Never mind that some of these others are the world's most famous celebrities.
New People: Wed, April 30 at 6.30pm
Kabuki: Fri, May 2 at 1pm
Top 7 Films for music fans at 57th SFIFF / No 4 - 'Heaven Adores You'
"Heaven Adores You" is a moving tribute about singer-songwriter Elliot Smith who was thrust into the spotlight when “Miss Misery” his song on the "Good Will Hunting" soundtrack was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Song. The 34-year-old indie rocker died tragically more than 10 years ago of what many believe were self-inflicted stab wounds. However, his music continues to touch people and in this documentary, family, friends and fans talk fondly of his talents, the loss but more importantly the music he left behind.
Kabuki: Mon, May 5 at 9pm
Kabuki: Wed, May 7 at 3.45pm
New People: Thurs, May 8 at 6pm
Top 7 Films for music fans at the 57th SFIFF / No 5 - 'We Are The Best'
Girls just wanna have fun and rock out, in this jaunty Swedish film about three teenage girls who form a punk rock band. "We Are The Best" is directed by Lukas Moodysson and based on the graphic novel by his wife. Set in Stockholm in the ‘80s - while their peers are all-ponytail in leotards dancing to New Wave, this trio of misfits have to find their own way with boy-crop, mohawks and instruments at least two of them, can’t yet play a chord. Well, it is punk rock. And it is one helluva an ebullient ride.
Kabuki: Mon, May 5 at 6.30pm
Kabuki: Wed, May 7 at 1.30pm
Top 7 films for music fans at the SFIFF / No 6 - 'Happiness'
In the kingdom of Bhutan, a country located in the foothills of the Himalayas they have a government dedicated to the development of Gross National Happiness, a term coined by their Fourth Dragon King back in the early '70s. Today, in their efforts to modernise, the country is finally receiving electricity and internet. Nine-year-old Peyangki like any boy his age would rather be outdoors playing than stuck in the monastery studying. When his old uncle, a yak herder considers selling one of his yaks to buy a TV, the boy gets the opportunity to travel to the capital and experience modernity with all its tantalizing bright lights and awe. A bitter-sweet documentary, "Happiness" highlights a nation at the crossroads of modernity and a vanishing way of life, it is beautifully scored by UK indie rockers British Sea Power.
Kabuki: Sun, April 27 at 12.15pm
Kabuki: Wed, April 30 at 1pm
BAM/PFA: Fri, May 2 at 6.30pm
Top 7 Films For Music Fans at the 57th SFIFF / No 7 - 'The Other One: The Long Strange Trip of Bob Weir'
Last but not least, Deadheads make a beeline for the screenings of "The Other One: The Long Strange Trip of Bob Weir". When us regular folks think of The Grateful Dead it is often the iconic frontman, Jerry Garcia that we remember. However, Mike Fleiss' film focuses on one of the other key founding members of the band - rhythm guitarist, Bob Weir. The two were very close, much more like best friends or brothers, spending vacations together where Garcia had encouraged Weir to take up scuba diving so that they could enjoy underwater pursuits and sea-creatures together. They met when Weir was 16 at an open-mic coffee shop in Palo Alto. Two years later he was living in the famed Grateful Dead house in the Haight-Ashbury. The youngest in the band, Weir was affectionately known as 'the kid'. A gifted guitarist, he was a willing sidekick in more ways than one to the enigmatic, Garcia. Weir is expected to be in attendance at both screenings. I wonder if he might sing a ditty or two?