Thanks to Peg for wrangling the tickets and my students for relinquishing me a few minutes early so I could fly from Albany to Catskill for the screening at the Community Theatre, which is a lovely venue. There were even Bowie-themed doughnuts. Director Brett Morgan sent a short introductory video which conveyed how special this project has been for him (and his — and Bowie’s — local connections).
MOONAGE DAYDREAM is surreal trip, an immersion in the world of Bowie and the psychedelic explosion of sound + vision for 170 minutes and ‘the first officially sanctioned film on the artist’ which of course shapes the narrative. You’re immediately plunged into a phantasmagoria of imagery, music and noise (in the good sense) that takes you out of this world and into the imaginary dream world of Bowie’s chameleon characters. The early footage both inside and outside the arenas is mesmerising; all the young kids so starry eyed. The band electric. Bowie on fire. Transitions are impressionistic — for the uninitiated, this could definitely prove confusing. For more seasoned fans it’s a serious of ‘Ah, Berlin’ (but no Iggy?) or ‘Ah, the dissolute coke years in L.A.’ and so on.
Stage, screen, celebrity — travel. You can really get a sense of how intoxicating and surreal fame must be and how horrible. The adoration is the appeal for so many but you don’t own yourself anymore and it’s hard to escape. It’s amazing any survive. Everybody squeezing the last drop from your corpse. Consider the strength to not completely surrender to the need for that drug, to abandon that persona, invent a new one out of whole cloth, start again, throw it all away, be willing to accept that it may all fall flat, blow up or just lie there and die. At the heart of Bowie’s appeal is this artistic courage. It can be the hardest thing not to just be safe, to make the things you know will please, and instead to trust your gut and do the thing that everybody hates. For now.
For such a long immersive film, it’s odd that some sequences repeat. I know the moon stuff is meant to be thematic (though I doubt it was necessary) but the neon escalator sequence is so striking the first time that it seems odd to have it repeat without purpose. Of course you get a snapshot of what the director considers key to the career, but as Peg said when we were chatting afterward with her friend it sells his late career short and smacks of ageism. It is popular to dismiss the stadium tour era (popular=bad) but I suspect that as time goes by there will be resurrections of that time in discourse. While the film wants to present a ‘warts and all’ narrative, it’s still heavily weighted by the ‘great man’ story which could use some unpacking.
The Life on Mars video will never not be arresting.
I could not help wanting SO MUCH MORE of his painting (and sculpture! was there any?) and his theatre work. I longed so much to see The Elephant Man on Broadway — everyone was agog, as I recall. My local theatre company presented it and it was totally absorbing. And it is almost too painful yet to revisit anything to do with Black Star, but there’s so much more to do.
What I wouldn’t give for a Kate Bush (or fill in myriad miraculous creators) biopic like this; but women aren’t worshipped this way.