Visually arresting and plenty for fans but short on insight
- Moonage Daydream review by PD
For his feature documentary, Brett Morgen takes an impressionistic approach, exploring the Bowie persona as a composite creation, a chameleonic alien who shrugged off the enigma to engage with the world as himself only in the last two decades of his life.
Morgen’s multi-layered collage is visually arresting but I'm afraid there’s a huge gap between listening to the artist’s music and listening to him blather on about life, the universe and everything without actually saying much. Bowie was many things, but a great interview was not one of them, or at least based on the evidence of the clips sampled here. We get great footage of his glam-rock days of cultivating a mystique that extended from his androgynous look to his fashionable bisexuality, but his philosophical and spiritual wanderings, struggling to grasp the transience of existence merely lead to a conventional cul-de-sac conclusion that, yes, it all does matter after all, and a platitudinous commitment to embrace positivity. Bowie describes himself as a collector of personalities, but anyone encountering him for the first time in Morgen’s film might be forgiven for concluding that alongside the musical genius, he was a pretentious bore - an (unfair) reductive dismissal perhaps inadvertently furthered by Morgen’s very busy visual approach, randomly punctuating the film with bursts of acid-trip psychedelia, animation, colour washes and graphics, to the point where the film starts to seem more like an art installation (which admittedly makes for a visual fest that works well on the big screen). In addition to these, the constant barrages of film images — lifting from Kubrick, Eisenstein, Oshima, Buñuel, Bergman, Warhol, etc, with an odd special fondness for Robert Wiene’s The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari - say more about Morgen’s diligent rights clearance team than anything about Bowie. The net effect is a film which seems like unlimited archival access in search of a perspective - especially as it stretches past the two-hour mark; it's as if Morgan has dumped all the Bowie data from his hard drive onto the screen and is still figuring out how to organise it.
That’s not to say there aren’t rewards for Bowie fans, chief among them the extensive concert footage, going back as far as Ziggy Stardust appearances in the early ‘70s through the “Outside” and “Earthlings” tours of the mid-to-late ‘90s. Performance clips from the Berlin years are especially eye-catching, though it might have been stimulating to hear from people like Brian Eno and Robert Fripp. And Morgen neatly captures the amusing side of Bowie, notably in his time in Los Angeles - draped in the backseat of a car sporting dandified “Thin White Duke” elegance, he talks about putting himself in dangerous situations to see what it would do to his music. Since he hated L.A., he says, he thought going to live there for two years would be an interesting experiment, with “Cracked Actor” providing droll accompaniment to those observations; nodding to roots, he acknowledges that the US filled spaces in his imagination in a way that England couldn't. And there's much of interest in the late section, where Bowie talks about finally finding the spiritual and emotional freedom to explore a real romantic relationship, with Iman, his wife for the last 24 years of his life; and earlier when he discusses his half-brother Terry, an influential figure whose sophisticated taste broadened Bowie’s musical and cultural horizons. And the section on Bowie as John Merrick in The Elephant Man links up with how often solitude figured as a theme in Bowie’s lyrics, the haunting loneliness of that character provide us with welcome food for thought, as does the section on his paintings, but such reflective moments are all-too brief.
It’s to Morgen’s credit that he chooses not to re-tread ground amply covered elsewhere in conventional documentaries, but I'm afraid it's still short on original insight.
2 out of 3 members found this review helpful.
A rather pretentious self-indulgent documentary, only for hardcore fans really
- Moonage Daydream review by PV
My advice, watch the biopic STARDUST 92020) instead.
This is a trippy 'immersive multimedia experience' (YAWN!) and so only for hardcore fans.
It is interesting in bits. Nowhere NEAR enough about Bowie's parents, brother, childhood which was only spent in then white working class Brixton until he was 6 when the Jones family left (many working class white families moved at the time due to an influx of Jamaicans, which is never mentioned). From 1953 Bowie moved with his family to Bickley and then Bromley Common, before settling in Sundridge Park in 1955 where he attended Burnt Ash Junior School. In his early 20s the by-then Bowie lived in the London suburb of Beckenham for 5 years. BUT Brixton sounds cooler so...
I am glad I watched it but would say over half the film is tedious and a waste of time.
I liked the bit in Berlin. I wanted more of that!
3 stars. JUST. Watch STARDUST instead.
1 out of 1 members found this review helpful.