Made with the consent of the artist’s estate who granted the director access to a wealth of previously unseen footage, Brett Morgen’s David Bowie biopic is an impressionistic and intense (almost overwhelmingly so) collage of Sound and Vision.
Narrated by Bowie himself via various TV and radio interviews (including a nicely-handled and astute encounter with the recently-departed Mavis Nicholson), Daydream charts a broadly chronological course, orally at least, while the visuals and musical selections add up to something more freewheeling and layered.
The trajectory will be familiar to fans, but it’s still fascinating watching Bowie’s transformation from shy and curious Bromley boy wannabe, to more strident conceptualist as Ziggy falls to Earth and makes his mark. Bowie’s two-year sojourn to LA, a place he hated, sees him descend into cocaine addiction but still turning out extraordinary music. The heat and flash peter a little for more reflective moments where the artist, living in a modest apartment in Berlin, collaborates with Brian Eno on the seminal ‘Low’ and ‘Heroes’ albums. Paradoxically, it’s his incarnation as the unpretentious, upbeat entertainer of the ‘Let’s Dance’ and ‘Tonight’ era that feels the most affected and unnatural, something he acknowledges later.
Morgen is oddly selective in the glimpses we see of Bowie’s personal life. Those unacquainted with his story would assume he led a solitary existence until he met model and wife-to-be, Iman in 1990, particularly given that his previous spouse, Angie, surely a visual influence on his Ziggy period, and his son Joe nee Zowie, who Bowie wrote ‘Hunky Dory’ highlight ‘Kooks’ for, aren’t mentioned at all.
It’s not a hagiography though. The voiceover narration from Bowie’s LA period where his announcements became more ‘erratic’ are cut up Burroughs-style to the point of complete incoherence, as opposed to their actual semi-coherence, while footage of the all-singing all-dancing crowd-pleasing shows from his 80s period is cheekily juxtaposed with a Ziggy-era performance of ‘’Rock ’n’ Roll Suicide’.
Eschewing a greatest hits selection, Morgen selects songs for their aptness in illustrating Bowie’s journey, rather than popularity, so tracks like ‘Wide Eyed Boy from Freecloud’ and ‘Hallo Spaceboy’ are featured as prominently as ‘Ashes to Ashes’ and ‘Rebel Rebel’. Frequently, overfamiliar pieces are restored to thrilling life, most notably a stirring live version of ‘Heroes’ from an Earls Court gig in 1978 featuring extraordinary accompaniment from prog guitar legend Adrian Belew.
It’s visually that ‘Moonage Daydream’ really elevates itself above usual rockumentary fare though, as Morgen, channelling underground filmmakers like Kenneth Anger and Stan Brakhage, illustrates Bowie’s myriad of influences - German expressionism, HG Wells, Oscar Wilde, 2001, Old Hollywood - in a dazzling collage of associative imagery. Consequently, this deserves to be seen on the biggest screen possible, and with the most booming sound system.
Moonage Daydream is released on 16th September
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