Last week, I went to see Moonage Daydream at the Barnet Everyman. I rarely review films. In fact in the history of the blog, I can only recall reviewing a couple films and those were more out of boredom as I had nothing much inspiring on my list that day. This is different. The new Bowie documentary is something that I have been thinking about reviewing since I watched it.
The film is not a normal documentary. There are no talking heads, just the voice of Bowie and those interviewing him, mostly over a selection of clips of Bowie. If you are not a Bowie nut, then I suspect that the film may be the worst few hours of your life. I don't think it will convert anyone who is a Bowie agnostic. However I am a huge fan of Bowie, or to be precise Bowie between 1969 and 1977.
I became a fan as a six year old, of this strange creature, floating in a tin can singing about Space. The track and the video was a bit of a cash in on the excitement around the Apollo lunar landings, which I was obsessed with. The video fascinated me at the time. No other pop stars were doing anything that involved dressing up as spacemen, so Bowie became my favourite pop star. Watching the video now, it seems horrily dated an low budget, but at the time it was wondeful.
The love affair ended after Heroes. To me, this was his last great album. The follow up album Lodger, was the first of a string of albums that were sort of OK. I'd discovered punk rock so they held little appeal. The period between these two records was the period I changed from a child to a teenager. The film charts this period in a rather non linear fashion, as well as the later period.
I had a chat with Robert Elms on his BBC Radio London show last Friday about the film. Click here and listen from 1.45.28. Chatting to Robert about the film was like two chocaholics locked in a sweet shop. We both love Bowie and we both love talking. He'd seen it the night before so was still mulling it over.
So what did I think? The negatives? It was far too long, with many superfluous meaningless graphics. A decent editor could have knocked 30 mins off the running time and made a far better film. But...
For those of us who are nostaligic for the days when Bowie putting his arm around Mick Ronson on TOTP seemd like the most incredible act of subversion and daring it was just a pleasure to see Bowie in his pomp. I actually liked the lack of talking heads opining about how wonderful Bowie was (generally people who didn't know him). I'd seen many of the clips before, but sampling them all in one go in a cinema was wonderful. Usually a documentary has a mission to inform. For me, the man that was David Bowie was just as opaque as he was at the start. When I first got into Bowie, I thought he was a genius. Later I thought he was a Charlatan. I now realise he's both, gloriously, at the same time. Much of what he said in the film was highly pretentious drivel. However it was Bowie saying it and in the context of the time it was far more. It is really hard to judge anything about Bowie without the context.
Bowie clearly had his demons. Like many things in Bowie's life, his response was contradictory. He faced them up and ran away from them at the same time. For me, his best work was done when he was at his most personally chaotic, but as Robert Elms noted, his hair always looked amazing. It almost seemed that the more chaotic and unhappy he was, the better his hair and his music appeared.
As I had driven to the cinema, I didn't have a drink, just a tea and a burger. When I got home, I had a couple of deeply disturbing and nostaligic dreams. When the False Dots first formed, myself and my co-conspiritor Pete Conway would listen to all manner of albums by our heroes together and try and write a song in that style. I recall we listened to Low on my 8 Track and we decided that we'd try and write a song in the style of "Be My Wife". We loved the desolation and despair. We loved the stark music. Just about every other artist who we'd tried to plaigerise, we had managed to and put together a passable tune. After half an hour, we gave up in despair. We concluded that Bowie was special and that he had some mystical power that was beyond the comprehension of mere mortals such as us.
Having watched the film, I realised that this was true. As disciples of his in his pomp, we'd gazed with wonder on his genius, but in truth we could not even start to comprehend the nature of what he did. A musician friend commented a while back just how few decent Bowie cover versions there are. A few people have done OK almost exact copies, but I suspect that Bowie is one of the least covered major prolific artists. I wonder how many people have approached his songs as we did and given up, realising that all we did was a pale reflection?
If you are a Bowie Nut 5/5 and watch in the best cinema you can if your not 0/5 and avoid like the plague,