Saturday, March 25, 2023

...and the Spiders of Mars

Film: Moonage Daydream
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on basement television.

As a casual fan of David Bowie, I wasn’t really sure how to approach Moonage Daydream, the approved documentary film on Bowie using a substantial amount of archival footage. It’s nearly impossible to be my age and not know at least something about Bowie, of course. In terms of my musical tastes, Bowie was less important to me early on than the other prog rock acts my brothers listened to when I was very young. It was probably around the Let’s Dance era that I listened to him more in earnest, despite knowing the earlier work through my brothers to some extent.

It's hard to say that Moonage Daydream is a warts-and-all biopic, because it’s not really that sort of movie. It’s a movie that is very much from Bowie’s own point of view. So, while this is going to provide a particular perspective on his life and work, it’s also going to be a perspective that feels honest and important. Much of what makes this interesting is the fact that David Bowie reinvented himself regularly; the same guy who did Ziggy Stardust also did Modern Love and further reinvented himself into a Nine Inch Nails-like band with Tin Machine.

Bowie’s ability to reinvent himself wasn’t limited to his music. This is someone who was at home playing the lead in The Man Who Fell to Earth and playing a comedy version of himself in Zoolander. It’s why he was as at home playing the goblin king in Labyrinth as he was a tragically aging vampire in The Hunger. He was also a talented visual artist. The man had a lot of facets.

Moonage Daydream makes the very wise decision of not being a series of talking head interviews of people reminiscing about Bowie and his various careers. We’re not going to hear from his costars or other important musicians of his various heydays and incarnations. Instead, we’re going to get rare performance footage and clips from interviews. This allows Bowie to explain himself and define himself, to explain his own thoughts and actions and discuss his various motivations.

This is an attractive way to make the movie in large part because it doesn’t necessarily give us a lot of definite answers. Bowie’s comments are often not rooted in “fact” as much as they are is place in the world at the time of the interview. And as the film progresses, we see him change in style, in appearance, in fashion, and in how he interacted with the world around him.

Moonage Daydream is not always an easy watch. There are moments here where it feels like an assault on the senses, with a lot of flashing visuals and music playing. I’m honestly a little surprised that it didn’t come with an epilepsy warning.

Honestly, there isn’t a great deal to say about the film otherwise. It’s a bit surprising how much of the film includes performances of Bowie doing songs made famous by other people (in fact, it opens with him singing Mott the Hoople’s All the Young Dudes, although to be fair, Bowie did write it). There’s also substantially less here on his post-‘80s career—there is no real mention of Tin Machine, for instance, and while that wasn’t a long period in the man’s career, it was definitely an important part of it. Also given short shrift is his marriage to Iman, who certainly merited more space in a documentary that clears the 2-hour mark by a good 15 minutes. The same is true of his final album, created while he was dying and released a couple of days before his death (pulling a page from Warren Zevon’s last year), is equally mainly ignored.

Bluntly, if you don’t like Bowie’s music, you’ll have issues with this. If you do, you’re going to watch it anyway, and it’s worth your time. However, if you live in s state that has banned or is in the process of banning drag shows, you might want to check with your local government to see if you’re allowed to watch it.

If you get depressed with the thought that this true and real genius has been gone for seven years, remember the sentiment that has been most widely attributed to Simon Pegg—the Earth is 4 billion years old, and you got to live on it at the same time as David Bowie.

Why to watch Moonage Daydream: Because David Bowie was a genius.
Why not to watch: There are large gaps in what is and isn’t covered.


  1. I FUCKING LOVE THIS MOVIE!!!!! Then again, I love David Bowie far more than any other singer in the world. More than Elvis, Sinatra, and the Beatles. I never got to see him live as that is a regret I have to live with. I first knew him through Let's Dance when I was 2 years old in diapers just in awe of him and dancing to that song on MTV.

    I'm not entirely surprised by the exclusion of Tin Machine as I think it is an important chapter and there's some great songs from Tin Machine that Bowie did. I really hope no one does a bio-pic on him as it's just something that won't work. You can't have one person play Bowie because it's fucking impossible.

    If I was making a movie on Bowie. I'd want to cover all of the chapters but I can't do it with one actor. I'll need a bunch of people to play different versions of Bowie in the same way Todd Haynes did with I'm Not There on Bob Dylan. Plus, I would approach each persona with a different visual style while also add things that will have audiences go "huh?". One idea I have involves what I would call the Fame Room where it is a place Bowie would want to go in the 1950s and 1960s is where everyone famous is there. He'd finally make it in the 70s as I would include an appearance from Elvis shooting the TV even though the two never met in real life (as I would mention that).

    1. With the number of times Bowie reinvented himself, I think you'd almost have to do the I'm Not There style of film to fully encapsulate the man, and even then, I think you're doing something that just hints at the reality.

      Honestly, I'd rather someone explain themselves in their own words like this.

    2. True. Plus, this was a film made with the approval of the Bowie estate. Namely his family. There was a bio-pic made without his approval in Stardust about Bowie's first trip to America before he became Ziggy Stardust and well... it was rightfully shit on by everyone. Duncan Jones was the person who made things more difficult for the people involved in the film by not allowing any of his father's music used in the film. I hope he told Rolan Bolan (Marc Bolan's son) to file a lawsuit on those filmmakers as they made Marc look like a fool.

    3. Based on the reviews of that, it looks like something best avoided. And good on Duncan Jones.