“Authorized” and “unauthorized” are theoretical virtues in the field of print biography, which often turn out to be negative. The first because it can mean something sanitized and devotional, such as B. Testimonies at dinner; the latter because it has so often led to lurid, questionably researched scandal baiting, a la all those Kitty Kelley celebrity post-mortems where the most incriminating stories come from the prolific gossip story Anonymous. In the world of moving pictures, such ventures are usually divided by format: the more serious (whether authorized or unauthorized) treatments are feature-length, the breathlessly garrulous a TV episode or miniseries.
Moontime Daydream, which hit IMAX screens nationwide last Friday and stars Roxie from September 30 (more info here), is the first film to be authorized by the David Bowie Estate, with full access to what appears to be its extensive audiovisual archives . But by selecting documentary filmmaker Brett Morgan for the honor, the late rock god’s legacies managed to sidestep the usual pitfalls of “official” portraiture, as well as the lewdness of the unofficial kind.
For better or for worse (though mostly for the better) they got nothing like a standard screen bio, but something like their own art object– a free meditation on the meaning of Bowie, which almost in passing also offers a career overview. (You can forget about any more than the slightest glimpse of his personal life.) This densely packed 140-minute collage offers no contextualization, no commentators, no date lines, not even identification of on-screen personnel or clips to the credits. It’s not Bowie 101, though Bowie: 2001a space odyssey in which he is the universe whose mysteries we can only begin to fathom.
In other words, there is the assumption of serious fandom. (However, if, like many serious fans, you haven’t paid much attention to Bowie’s activities over the past 30 years or so, don’t worry — the film skips that part pretty well, too.) Morgan keeps finding new angles and Juxtapositions to make you feel like you’ve never seen this material before, even if you thought you already knew Peak Bowie – say 1969-1980 – backwards and forwards.
He also occasionally gets so overwhelmed by this effort that the film almost seems to lose sight of its subject at times, just as that subject admitted he occasionally lost control of his public figures, so they began to control him. On the not-too-large IMAX screen at CGV San Francisco on Van Ness last Friday, moon time At first, the preview seemed all too similar Wakanda forever it followed: puffed up with a cosmic self-importance befitting the Second Coming. The documentary (if you can call its impressionistic attack that simply) also ends with us so filled with imagistic awe of outer space, as if we were watching a film about astronomy, not an artist.
But between these poles of pretentious overload, Morgen offers plenty to think about, as well as an almost excessive feast for the eyes and ears. You can imagine the last order being reversed. However, despite the great complexity of its own sound design, this film is not so interested in Bowie’s individual songs, per se. While some (‘All the Young Dudes’, ‘Heroes’, ‘Let’s Dance’) are highlighted, far more ‘Greatest Hits’ are omitted than even briefly included. The focus here is not on much-loved achievements, but rather on his evolution as an artist across multiple mediums, and how perhaps the constant evolution was more important to him than the artworks themselves.
Bowie was an exceptionally intelligent interviewee, so of course he’s pretty much the only person here to comment on his much-questioned, often provocative mission. Even so, his answers kept changing, as did he. “I’m a collector. I’ve always seemed to collect personalities,” he tells a journalist during the highly androgynous glam period of the early ’70s, refusing to role-play even as he performs.
He then moved to LA because “it was a city I loathe” and bowed to the logic of “putting myself in predicaments to see how I could cope with it.” This in turn triggered the reverse course of experimentation by Berlin and Eno. Which then spawned the startling populism of “the simplest music I’ve ever made,” the 1983s let’s Dance album that finally gives him a mainstream stadium audience. This began as “an attempt to write more optimistically and positively”. The rabbit hole it led down (evidenced here, among other things, by a garish Pepsi commercial starring Tina Turner) ultimately led him to reject the banality of simply “pleasing people.”
Despite very bad English teeth, arguably no rock star has ever been as photogenic (or as committed to changing his visual image) as Bowie. This naturally led to him making films – although he was also a very good actor, with additional training in pantomime and dance. The man who fell to earth and The hunger (plus his theatrical role as The Elephant Man) are extensively excerpted here. However, they do not serve to represent his range, but clarify further aspects of an artistic sensibility that thrives on “fragmentation and chaos” and is always looking for a new “disguise”.
Although he identified primarily with music, he considered himself a “generalist” and one of them Moonage Daydreams Revelations offers a good insight into the paintings that would later take up much of his time, but which he was reluctant to show publicly. (They are mostly boldly colored, semi-abstract portraits and not too shabby.)
Arranged more or less chronologically, the film does not tell a coherent, fact-driven life story. Even more than the director’s prior Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck, it tries to get into the subject’s headspace. If the Nirvana leader’s mindset often seemed dominated by an ambivalence bordering on hatred of the limelight, daydream interprets an internal Bowie landscape as deliberately, sometimes alarmingly, engulfed by the attention he commanded and controlled.
There are many unidentified shots of him traversing faraway places alone, at the same time fascinated by local cultures and psychologically isolated from the inevitable gazes. Perhaps the biggest “change” recorded here is when, after hearing him discuss previous personas as expressions of isolation (among other things), he actually said, “I don’t particularly do it feeling” at one point – an Iman model LTR contributed an aura of emotional and philosophical serenity that a consciously ephemeral life had previously lacked.
Although its considerable length passes quickly enough, the film is oppressively thick at times. Adding everything from psychedelic and sci-fi animations, graphics, distortion effects, etc. to a very full arsenal of archival materials, moon time can be too much, to an almost repulsive degree. Sometimes, editorially speaking, it borders on cramming all your favorite things together at triple speed, which boosts volume to 11. On the plus side, this density will reward the truly devoted with repeated viewing. But it leaves a first impression that can be unsettlingly much more than the simple, loving nostalgia trip some viewers will expect.
Still, David Bowie can certainly stand up to such treatment – it would look ridiculous on most less complicated star legends – and presumably most of the previous converts can too. “We created the 21st century in 1971,” he says at one point. Moontime Daydream claims that six years after his death, Bowie is still “futuristic” in terms of interdisciplinary art, celebrity, representation of sexual/gender identity, and many other things you could name. I will buy this concept.
Moontime Daydream is currently playing on IMAX screens nationwide, including CGV theaters and AMC Metreon in SF, Century 20 Daly City, 16 AMC Bay Street in Emeryville and more.