A film by Brett Morgen
Reviewed by Madeline Bocaro
© Madeline Bocaro, 2022. No part of this site may be reproduced or re-blogged in whole or in part, in any manner without permission of the copyright owner.
My wildest daydreams have come true!
This gorgeous, seemingly infinite film is a moving, breathing portrait of David Bowie. It is not a biopic, nor a documentary. It is something else entirely. This will hopefully mark the death of the dreaded biopic. Director Brett Morgen’s film is a long-awaited artful and refreshing alternative to boring, sterile and contrived biographical films. Each graphic frame, abounding with color is masterfully composed (as in a Kurosawa film). It’s an innovative cut-and-paste collage of Bowie’s inner world. William Burroughs would have been proud.
We are taken on a long (2-1/2 hours) experiential journey through the deep space of Bowie’s cinematic life, through his art and through his mind. It is chronological, but that is not obvious. There are a thousand flashbacks and juxtapositions. It opens with a Nietzche quote on-screen, on the subject of god. Bowie speaks about “time” alongside his instrumental track, ‘Ian Fish, UK Heir.’
Bowie voices his own story. It’s more like an autobiography, rife with themes of isolation, wonder, death and an endless spiritual search. The artist’s profound and astute observations and frighteningly accurate prophecies (not included is Bowie practically inventing the Internet) transcend time and space.
Morgen respectfully does not repeat the usual well-known factoids. He manages to dazzle those who grew up loving Bowie, and to hopefully excite newer fans. Together, we are immersed in the artist’s true essence.
There is precious and rare unseen material for hardcore fans, notably, Jeff Beck’s appearance in the final Ziggy Stardust concert in 1973 (with alternate angles from other moments in that show) and Earl’s Court live in ’78. However, for those of us who have scoured the earth and collected Bowie clips for 50+ years, we will never be satisfied – only teased as to how much more is in the archives, most likely never to be released.
“5,4,3,2,1 lift off…” We are propelled into Bowie’s realm, accompanied by his warm, comforting, articulate voice. The music never stops (beginning with ‘Hallo Spaceboy’). We are adrift in a cosmic ballet, like the floating sensations of 2001: A Space Odyssey, However, this is not an odyssey. It’s the stark bright incredible reality of an extraordinary life.
The state of being different, whether alien or alienated – has been made acceptable, desirable and even glamourous by David Bowie. He recognized that many of us (including himself) who reside in an alternate world, are more perceptive and in touch with the universe. Bowie is a brilliant multimedia artist who respected the intelligence of his audience, whether they be teenagers or adults. This is the reason he is so beloved. His sincerity, brilliance and honesty helped us to navigate our own path. This film made me feel at home.
We see many of David’s paintings (and of painters who inspired him). There are many scenes in which we see David from behind, as if he is walking through his own life. We follow in his footsteps, seeing his view of the world.
There are several scenes from The Man Who Fell to Earth. In fact, Morgen’s film is such an intense sensory overload, reminiscent of the scenes in which Bowie’s alien character Thomas Jerome Newton is watching a wall of multiple television sets, simultaneously absorbing all the information – which is briefly shown here as well. It’s a perfect illustration of Bowie’s hunger for information. An abundance of relevant clips from Bowie’s favorite films flash on-screen, including Méliès’ Le Voyage dans la Lune (A Trip to the Moon), Murnau’s Nosferatu, Lang’s Metropolis, Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange, Browning’s Freaks, Buñuel / Dali’s Un Chien Andalou and many more.
Bowie speaks of the many masks he has worn, to hide a severe personality crisis. He was at times fragile and addicted, wary of his family’s history of mental illness. David was devastated when his mentor (his older half-brother Terry) returned from the armed forces diagnosed with schizophrenia.
We see the evolution from a sad early statement, “I never became who I should have been.” to the content, loving soul he becomes at the end of his life.
Morgen has spoken about the five-million items from the archive, and hours of footage that he sifted through (sanctioned by Bowie’s estate), the heart attack which left him in a coma during the project, and his almost impossible decisions of what material to include. The process was obviously heart-wrenching and mind-boggling… and the director, working in complete isolation, edited the film himself! This is a testament to the creative outcome – that the director maintained complete control.
Moonage Daydream is drenched in hyper-realistic color – representing the bright rainbow that Bowie brought to the drab grey existence of teenagers in 1960s and 70s London. Ian Hunter (of Mott the Hoople) wrote a tribute song to Bowie called ‘Dandy’ in 2016 with the lines, “The world was black-and-white / You showed us what it’s like / To live inside a rainbow.”
See my story about Ian Hunter’s song ‘Dandy’
The film’s glittering color palette is delightfully shocking and phantasmagorical. Bowie’s yellowed teeth in the Russell Harty interview clip are even more yellow! (I eternally curse his dentist for the big white choppers that he got in the early 80s, replacing his gloriously crooked original teeth).
As a kid in the 70s, I always wanted to drink in those luscious red backgrounds in the Sukita photographs, with the explosion of kabuki color in the costumes of Kansai Yamamoto – all so spectacular that they had their own names (Tokyo Pop, Space Samurai, Spring Rain…) My mouth always watered at the juicy pink and blue Mick Rock portraits, which reminded me of cotton candy, or the delicious ice pops of childhood summers – especially the shots taken in Zowie’s bedroom at Haddon Hall, and the gorgeous ‘Life on Mars?’ video – of which we see several precious outtake frames in glorious HD! Bowie always presented a vibrant kaleidoscopic view of himself, and of the world. This film airlifts us to that paradise!
There are visuals from Blackstar at the start and end of the film. However, the focus is more on the 1970s when everything clicked, and Bowie’s star was quickly rising. The director feels that this is a crucial period, and we, of a certain age would agree. At least, it was the most colorful!
We barely get into the sun-tanned, blonde-haired 1980s – mostly to show that at first, David was unapologetically thrilled to be playing in stadiums and earning millions… until he realized that he had become nothing but an entertainer, producing music that the audience wanted to hear, and not on his own artistic terms. Morgen’s subtle example of this (obvious to me) are the juxtaposed cuts back and forth, from the Hammersmith 1973 close-up sublime performance of ‘Rock ‘N’ Roll Suicide’ (with extreme intensity in the eyes of the boy on the stage) to the outreaching hands of millions toward a distant, smiling Bowie at a Glass Spider stadium show.
It’s all in extreme HD – presented in IMAX. Many of us recall watching these artfully executed film clips and concert footage on ancient flickering black and white television sets, while trying not to blink and miss a millisecond. It was a rare occurrence to catch glimpses of our idol in those days. I had amassed a vast collection of vintage Bowie video clips in the 1980s – many from England in PAL format, which was even worse quality! Better quality film exists of World War I. I accidentally discovered that by watching the PAL videos reflected in a mirror, the flickering became stabilized! A nice DVD set was released in the 90s, but now at last, we can revel in the beauty, vibrance and magic of all these stunning clips!
The soundscape is by Paul Massey (who won an Academy Award for soundtracking the Queen biopic Bohemian Rhapsody, and worked with Yes and Supertramp on tour). The audio is as stunning and sumptuous as the visuals. Wonderful ear candy! Bowie’s music propels the entire story. Songs are remixed, mashed-up and presented in entirely new ways – including some bleeps and blips from space. I usually frown upon this, but it is so artfully done here – supervised by Bowie’s producer and cohort Tony Visconti! There were overlapping sounds, sometimes obliterating David’s words, which the director called “happy accidents,” but this was frustrating.
Moonage Daydream is aptly titled after a song written in 1972 for Bowie’s now classic album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, released fifty years ago, in July 1972 (on the same day as Roxy Music’s debut album). During Bowie’s incarnation as Ziggy Stardust, the rock star from space inhabited and subverted David’s entire being. Ziggy’s existence burned with the intensity and impermanence of a comet, until Bowie’s own twisted psyche (which created him) killed him off. In this song, Ziggy the rock star sings not only as the alien,
“I’m a space invader, I’ll be a rock n’ roll bitch for you…”
but alternately, as an Earthling…
“Keep your ‘lectric eye on me, babe / Put your ray gun to my head / Press your space face close to mine, love / Freak out in a moonage daydream, oh yeah!”
The lyrics also emphasize an important point – the alien needs love and affection…
“Make me know you really care / make me jump into the air.”)
Bowie’s exploration of themes of affection/idolatry, distance/isolation were relatable to listeners, while cathartic for David himself. Possessed by Ziggy, he became extremely unstable while giving us the freedom to forge our own identities. This was the ultimate gift and sacrifice – not by a god or a saint, but a rock star!
Morgen has carefully curated Bowie’s profound voiced philosophies – unearthed gems of wisdom on how to live life to the fullest. Bowie used outer space to reflect inner space. David was a self-admitted accurate observer of societies, yet he felt “outside” (“I don’t come from anywhere, but I was born in Brixton.”) because of his parents’ lack of emotion for each other and for their child (“an emotional and spiritual mutilation in my family.” He became unhealthy in body and mind, and wondered if his existential thoughts would lead him down a darker path of madness.
David was an anthropologist of the mind. He tried identify what was normal thinking, and what we valued. Why we felt different emotions about the same things. Why he had been emotionally cut off and socially awkward at the height of fame (when he seemed so charming and together). He later changed his orbit, found the lost emotions within himself, and even fell deeply in love.
Putting himself at the edge of danger, not having a home and constantly traveling were his methods of making good work. It was all research, and he was the experiment. The results are life lessons for us all, if we pay attention. His principle was to cherish each day.
“All people, no matter who they are, all wish they’d appreciated life more.
It’s what you do in life that’s important,
not how much time you have – or what you wished you’d done…”
These fleeting images must have been similar to David’s own elongated flashback of his life, when he learned that he was slipping away at age 69. The meaning of life and death occupied Bowie’s mind more than anything else. If he couldn’t crack the code of life and what lies beyond, then nobody can. This frustrated David, yet he endlessly carried out the search, and always reported back to us. He arrived at the conclusion that chaos is an important part of our lives that we have been rejecting – and that there is perhaps no meaning to it all. In 2016, he found out for sure. Perhaps we can find our answers in this film.
The final line is the death soliloquy whispered by Rutger Hauer’s replicant in Blade Runner. “All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die.”
Anyone who is still parading around in a Bowie costume is missing the importance of this serious artist, who once walked amongst us.
My favorite interview quote from the director:
“This isn’t a biography of David Jones. It’s a film about Bowie, and Bowie never died.”
See Moonage Daydream NOW, especially in IMAX. Hang on to yourself and FREAK OUT!
* Ask for a free poster at the theater!
Watch the trailer: https://www.moonagedaydream.film/videos/
The opening lines:
Bowie is reading a piece he had written for the work of artist Richard Deveraux in 1998 for the BBC series Conversation Piece. “Ian Fish, UK Heir” is soundtrack. This is the opening dialogue of the Moonage Daydream film.
The director has edited the first word from “The Carved Word” (talking about a sculpture) to the word “Time.”
Also see some of my other stories:
Bye Bye, We Love You!
Life On Mars?
Ziggy and our Teenage Dream
My story of being a teenage Bowie fan in America in the 1970s.
Bowie and our Teenage Daydream
My Tribute to Bowie just after his passing in 2016
High on Low
MY STORY: Rock N’ Roll Suicide
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