CANNES, France – Talking heads, live performances, the requisite cautionary tale factor, rock biopics often check the boxes, it’s a genre and it functions well but it can be a bit by the book.
“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 wish you’d done. Life is fantastic” (David Bowie)
“Moonage Daydream” was directed by Brett Morgen. The film screened here in Cannes earlier this week out of competition, it was billed as an immersive cinematic experience and it turns out to be just that, a genre-defying film about the life and musical career of David Bowie, mostly from the Ziggy Stardust person on to his mid-thirties. The was absorbing for the length of its 150 minutes’ running time. At first, Bowie, to me, was the China girl singer (I was a child from the eighties, growing up in the U.S.and when the video came on on MTV I always turned to watch), his live aid performance, the duets with other artists. His turn in 1983’s “The Hunger,” the film made an impression on me.
In time, I got into the Ziggy Stardust-era music, I admired Bowie’s baritone voice, his self-confidence, his looks, Ziggy-era and beyond.
After watching “Moonage” I think it’s fair to say that David Bowie was not a good dancer, however.
In spite of years of watching him on stage and in music videos and in the press, David Bowie remained, and still does after watching “Moonage,” an enigma. I never could quite tell whether this was voluntary or not on his part. He’s a private individual who’d just as soon talk about what he does rather than what he is.
In one of the many voice-overs in the film he says, “I live to produce a reaction in people, which encourages me to write [music].” This doesn’t sum up Bowie, but it gives a peek into his modus operandi. Other statements by him left me perplexed, “I was a Buddhist on Monday and into Nietzche by Friday.” Posturing, or a lightweight approach to intellectuality?
The film, which is co-produced by LiveNation plays like some fierce technicolor fountain gushing out a maelstrom of color and sound. Hysterical fans crying near some backstage entrance (“I’ve been waiting here for hours, hoping to meet him”) here, hallucinatory visuals there.
Bowie is shown going down a yellow-neon-lined escalator in China–twice, a memorable sequence of the film.
Brett Morgen (“The kid stays in the picture”) received support from the David Bowie Estate to make the movie and as such was able to access new materials.
In 2017, the estate presented Morgen with over five million assets,including footage of drawings, recordings, films, and journals. Morgen spent four years assembling the film.
During one presser (it plays as voice-over, while images of Bowie and news-related sequences from the eighties are shown in rapid succession) Bowie talks about his half-brother Terry, who was an influence on him. Terry was in the army and had a thirst for knowledge, he was curious about everything, but ended up a schizophrenic and was put in an institution. Bowie spent time, after that, wondering whether, as he got beyond his thirties, whether he was taking after his brother or just eccentric.
David Bowie has more things to say on the stage than off it, although he tries, in various encounters with the press, to express his philosophy for life. He mentions chaos a lot at an early point in his career, “chaos is meaning,” “chaos is fragmentation,” he also discusses his various interests (painting, sculpture, etc) and is shown painting in his studio, demurring when the reporter asks him if his paintings will be exhibited to the public. Too soon, he says.
During an interview one reporter is heard telling him, “you’ve always been so good at being convincing.”
“Moonage Daydream” is a song by English singer-songwriter David Bowie, it was recorded in 1971.