Once upon a time — say, around 1982, when he was strung out on heroin and singing as though a Ridley Scott-style alien had just burst through his chest — it was hard to imagine Nick Cave sitting in front of a fireplace talking quietly about his childhood with a chin-stroking interviewer. Like Iggy Pop, Cave has metamorphosed from rock's wild child to its elder statesman, but seeing how much he's mellowed out is still the biggest surprise of "20,000 Days on Earth."

A shot of Cave using an ancient typewriter in his book-cluttered office brought to mind Woody Allen, for his rejection of contemporary culture and single-minded work ethic, but also for the way Cave involved himself in this documentary, spinning his own image and clearly protecting his private life. (Cave's wife Susie is barely glimpsed, and certain former bandmates are noticeably absent.) Yet Cave is as literate as ever, and provides fascinating insight into his craft: "I love the feeling of the song before you understand it, a moment where the song is still in charge, and you hope you don't fall and break your neck." Some intense live performances by his band The Bad Seeds illustrates this well.

20,000 Days on Earth
Director Iain Forsyth, Jane Pollard
OpensFeb. 7