It was hard to know whether I would go into this and come out the other side unscathed, but there you go. I thought the BBC did a great job with their “Years” trilogy a while back, where a lot of unseen material was unearthed, but I was (and remain) irritated by the voxpops in the first film by people just offering a bland opinion like it’s Come Dine With Me. We know Bowie is good, that’s why we’re watching a bloody documentary about him, you muppets. Filler. Waste of time. Don’t even burn your production budget recording these interviews, ever. Nobody wants to see them.
So, Brett Morgen immediately got on my right side by only letting the man himself, David Jones, do all the talking and keep floating acolytes who love “Tonight” well and truly away from the proceedings. Is this a film worth seeing at an IMAX? Yes. It’s a sensory experience not just on screen but in your ears too. The music is absolutely essential, and even if you only know a fraction of Bowie’s music, the way it is laid out for you, remixed, and reimagined is profound. For people like me who know the 70s albums back to front (with the except of ‘Young Americans’ and ‘David Live’ which are very bad cocaine albums sans soul), there are plenty of interesting mixes and alternate versions of well known songs that are transformed with the on-screen images.
Take ‘Word on a Wing’ from the 1975 album ‘Station to Station’ (also composed under a snowhill of drugs and black magic, but thats by-the-by)… a stripped down version of the song is juxtaposed with photographs of Bowie and his new wife Iman, which really hit me hard knowing that he’s now gone, leaving his wife and daughter Lexi. It’s a very powerful moment and nearly had me on the floor. Nice work, Brett.
Brute force can only do so much before you end up desentitised and bored by the 2h14 running time. Like Bowie’s stolen cut-up techniques, the film follows a similar method using concert, found, and documentary footage mixed in with photography, other movies (A Clockwork Orange, Metropolis, etc.) and for me, a true example of ingenuity, using low-quality QuickTime footage from the early-00s but blown up to 4k. FINALLY someone has embraced the media we recorded on our pre-smart phones and used it in a meaningful way. Everything… EVERYTHING has some value given the right context. My only criticism of the footage is in its reuse without what seems to be intent, such as Dave going up and down some lifts in the Glass Spider documentary footage (which has been cleaned up very nicely).
For nerds like me, the best moment was the unseen Earl’s Court footage, which has been vaulted since 1978 and looks like it was filmed last week. Now we just need the full show, and maybe Brett is the man to do it, if he’s not completely burned out from looking at Dave for the past few years without a break.
What the film doesn’t cover, which is understandable given Bowie’s length of time working in entertainment, are his bad 80s years (two unlistenable albums back to back), no Jagger/Mercury, sadly no Reznor, and definitely no ‘Heathen’/’Hours’-era stuff. His later years have been overlooked by nearly everybody because music mags are so fixated on ‘Ziggy’ and ‘Hunky’, which I like to be contrarian about and admit I prefer ‘Diamond Dogs’. I used to say my favorite album after that was ‘Low’ but in my advanced years I’ve changed to ‘”Heroes”‘ because side 2 is so great. Brett doesn’t demystify this era at all, sadly for me, but likely because it would alienate the casual viewer or the Let’s Dance fans. It’s a very tough tightrope too navigate as everyone has their favourite era of Bowie, including many who just like Labyrinth and couldn’t care less about his music. It’s also worth adding this is the first time I’ve seen his paintings before, which could either be untrained outsider work or I’m just not getting it. Art experts, please weigh in.
Moonage Daydream, thankfully, has enough surprises that warrants seeing on a huge screen and over and over again. It’s a double album. It’s a documentary. It’s a concert film. It’s an art movie. It’s a video game. It’s a club remix. It’s a gallery. It’s a trailer. It’s NOT entry-level Bowie but it is a museum guide through his winding life and ends on a glorious high, not the heartbreak of 2016 when I found out what had happened moments after buying a copy of an album on LP that I needed to fill in my collection.