Two Princes: The Fire Inside Nick Cave and John Oliver Burns Bright

The documentary '20,000 Days on Earth' about the Australian musician and the HBO show 'Last Week Tonight' by the British satirist are required viewing.

Niv Hadas
Niv Hadas
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Nick Cave, center, at a gala screening of '20,000 Days on Earth,' London, September 17, 2014.
Nick Cave, center, at a gala screening of '20,000 Days on Earth,' London, September 17, 2014.Credit: Reuters
Niv Hadas
Niv Hadas

It’s hard to find a documentary as overwhelming as “20,000 Days on Earth.” The film, which flirts with the boundary between reality and fiction, was created by the Australian musician Nick Cave, who invited the artists Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard to document the 20,000th day of Cave’s life.

During that day, Cave undergoes a psychotherapy session, picks through his photo archive and records with his legendary band, the Bad Seeds. He also drives in his car with key people from his life like musician Blixa Bargeld, actor Ray Winstone and yes, Kylie Minogue, with whom he recorded the iconic “Where the Wild Roses Grow” two decades ago.

Cave doesn’t wander through his musical oeuvre chronologically, record a concert for posterity or go over a life that morphed from decadence to family man. Instead, he ponders himself as an artist; he tries to find out what motivates him to keep writing, composing, singing, recording and performing on stages all over the world — what keeps his music vibrant and relevant after a 35-year career.

The answer, which crystallizes over a densely packed two hours, may be found in his song “Jubilee Street,” which plays during the documentary’s final scene.

“I’m transforming, I’m vibrating, I’m glowing, I’m flying, look at me now,” he whispers, sings and screams as he describes the mental process he endures onstage.

John Oliver on 'Last Week Tonight.'Credit: HBO via AP

It’s a kind of dark, transcendental exaltation in which he becomes someone else — someone from whom his music bursts out. Even though he describes the transformation — he says he focuses on the people in the first few rows, seducing them — his madness during "Jubilee Street” shows he hasn’t lost any of his talents as a performer, which we in Israel were blessed to see in person throughout the 1990s.

This apparently is what happens when someone encounters his purpose in life and enters another dimension.

The energy builds

When John Oliver hosts the late-night talk show “Last Week Tonight,” he’s in that same zone. Oliver might hitherto have seemed like an overly serious Brit with a dry sense of humor and a fairly narrow range. His satirical reports on Jon Stewart’s “The Daily Show” were delivered in a laconic style that simmered slowly, while in the American sitcom “Community” he played a psychology professor who made the most of his British accent.

None of this could have foreshadowed his tour de force in “Last Week Tonight,” which has been broadcast in the United States on HBO since April.

A title like “Last Week Tonight” might suggest a show that sums up the week’s news, but it doesn’t. In an intense 15 minutes where the energy builds, each episode investigates an important issue like corruption or consumer-related scandals. The cliché no stone unturned is an apt one.

No matter how esoteric the topic — corruption in soccer governing body FIFA, whether the Miss America pageant donates scholarships for women, as it claims, or how much sugar our food really contains — Oliver and his team of screenwriter-journalists treat it like Watergate. They hypnotize you, somehow proving that the topic affects you.

It should be required viewing for media majors; Israeli news teams could learn a trick or two, too.

It’s a lesson for Israel’s co-opted media and America’s political correctness. Compared to the arrogant sarcasm of Jon Stewart, the condescending pettiness of Bill Maher and the topsy-turvy looniness of Stephen Colbert, the fire inside Oliver burns brighter.

His enormous popularity — an average 5-million-plus viewers per episode on the web alone — shows how young people use him as the prism through which they decipher reality.

If marketing managers and content consultants have made us believe that a web surfer’s patience runs out after three and a half minutes, Oliver and “Last Week Tonight” provides us a little more length and a lot more quality. Oliver is another Nick Cave; he transforms, vibrates, glows and flies.

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