DAVID BOWIE – ” Moonage Daydream “

Posted: November 17, 2022 in MUSIC

Now comes something more daring, and cinematic, and still more successful: “Moonage Daydream”, an attempt to capture on film some of the otherworldly appeal of the extraordinary David Bowie. (There was a recent biopic, the unpardonable Stardust, and there have been numerous earlier documentaries, some of which are drawn upon here, including the terrific BBC film, “Cracked Actor”, from 1975. But nothing on screen about Bowie has come close to this in terms of ambition or execution.)

“Moonage Daydream” is written, directed, edited, and produced (phew!) by the American filmmaker Brett Morgen, previously known for The Kid Stays in the Picture, his affectionate homage to the Hollywood producer Robert Evans; and for Cobain: Montage of Heck, about the unhappy Nirvana frontman.

Morgen’s new film is less montage than collage: a kaleidoscope of concert footage, snatches of interviews, pop videos, movie clips, and psychedelic starbursts of visual pyrotechnics. Bowie’s cut-up technique of lyric writing, borrowed from William Burroughs, has inspired a film that is almost as restless and spacey as the man himself.

Sanctioned by the Bowie estate, which apparently gave Morgen access to five million pieces of archived material (it’s a wonder he kept the run-time to a brisk 140 minutes), “Moonage Daydream” does not seek to be definitive, or exhaustive. It’s a meditation on Bowie’s brilliance, an immersion in his aesthetic, and a portrait of the artist as existentialist — a searching, compulsively creative spirit. The Bowie of “Moonage Daydream” is funny, charming, courageous, and endlessly patient with journalists (a rare and valuable quality, that one). Also: great hair, incredible wardrobe. To say that he was worshipped by his fans is to considerably undersell Bowie’s messianic effect, especially during his Seventies pomp. Bowie was beloved, and this film leaves those of us too young to clearly remember his imperial phase in no doubt about why that might have been. He is mesmerising.

The film opens in media res, with a recording of Bowie speaking. He’s in philosophic mode, talking about Nietzsche and sounding, just for a moment, dangerously like the adenoidal drug dealer Danny, from Withnail and I, creator of the Camberwell Carrot. Chaos and fragmentation defined Bowie’s early worldview and it’s chaos and fragmentation we get here, plunging headlong into a sci-fi extravaganza of sounds and visions, beginning with a gripping live “All The Young Dudes” — the first of a series of previously unseen concert performances, testament to Bowie’s terrific stagecraft. (The music has been remixed by the great Tony Visconti.)

It’s not that there is no narrative thrust to this rocket. We revisit Bowie’s south London childhood. (He was born in Brixton, just down the road from Danny’s Carrot.) We follow him to the locations of his triumphs — Hammersmith, Hollywood, West Berlin — and on his perpetual, peripatetic adventures. We watch him emerge as Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane, the Thin White Duke. We join him during his pop hitmaker years in the mid-1980s — remunerative, but unfulfilling — and his later return to more experimental concerns. We learn little about his private life, beyond the fact that he feared going mad, following the dreadful fate of his brother, Terry; and he was extremely keen on his second wife, Iman.

Of course, it was almost inevitable that there would be a soundtrack, but no one wants, or needs, another collection of standard versions of Bowie tracks, and at least this isn’t that. While this musical accompaniment includes classic songs spanning Bowie’s career, it includes previously unheard material, unique mixes created for the film and it incorporates dialogue from Bowie himself. 

“Moonage Daydream” fails to reduce its subject to a series of weary cliches, or to get hung up on the mundane details, all of which you can Google if you really, really haven’t heard them already. This is a rock doc, then, that changes the record. Best of all it reminds us of what a singular figure Bowie was, and how exciting pop culture’s glory years really were, when a freaky, druggy, sexy avant-garde artist could also be the number one teenybopper sensation in the world. What a beautiful man he was. How we miss him.

The companion album features songs from spanning Bowie’s career and includes previously unheard material, unique mixes created for the film and this release along with dialogue from Bowie himself. Highlights include a previously unreleased live medley of ‘The Jean Genie / Love Me Do / The Jean Genie’ recorded live at the final “Ziggy Stardust” concert at Hammersmith Odeon in 1973, featuring Jeff Beck on guitar. Other rarities include an early version of the Hunky Dory favourite ‘Quicksand’ and a previously unreleased live version of ‘Rock ’n’ Roll With Me’ from the legendary 1974 ’Soul Tour’.

“Moonage Daydream” released in cinemas on 16th September.

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