Cert – 15, Run-time – 2 hours 15 minutes, Director – Brett Morgen
Documentary using archive footage to explore the mystery behind David Bowie and his characters.
Brett Morgen’s Moonage Daydream is a film that initially revolves around the idea of the mystery that surrounded David Bowie and the characters he performed as on stage. Who was the real David Bowie? Did he know himself? We see interview footage where he admits “I’ve never been sure of my own personality… I’m a collector. I collect personalities”. The idea of collection, and indeed that “there’s a feeling of excitement and titillation about moving in areas that are forbidden to society”, is pushed in the cascading barrage of sound and vision which floods the screen in loud montages. Assembling clips and images from films, newspaper articles, concert footage and more to push across the idea of influences. This may be one of the few films ever to use footage from both Barbarella and Triumph Of The Will, and to end with a reference to Pete and Dud.
Bowie states at one point that Ziggy Stardust started as an alien rock star and was then further developed by people’s perceptions of the character. We see in these early years (at least in terms of what the film covers) a man discovering his own personalities through his characters, yet almost being overcome by them. The use of overlapping footage powered by the almost non-stop Bowie soundtrack (without feeling overpowering, it pairs finely with the well-edited and combined visuals which are made for the big screen – this certainly deserves the IMAX treatment it’s been given) emphasises this as the audience is projected into this kaleidoscopic world exploring the mystery of the central figure. Mystery which is kept intact thanks to the way in which the film leans into perception and fascination – including Bowie’s own of his characters.
As things move on and we reach the star’s return in the 80s the film becomes something of a personality drama within the career documentary aspect. We see more of the focus coming through and building his own personality as he begins to perform as himself instead of the likes of the Thin White Duke. While the extent of the montages might slightly die down, or at least their frequency, it allows the personal elements of someone discovering themselves to come through more amongst the parallels of footage – some of Bowie simple exploring the literal world he lives in, or finding connecting points in his music videos and behind-the-scenes footage.
There’s no denying the consistently compelling and fascinating nature of the visuals. With so much happening Morgen manages to not overpower the viewer and instead forms an easy-to-follow narrative without the use of talking heads and largely allowing for Bowie to speak for himself, alongside the masses of images and footage used throughout the 2 hour plus run-time. A run-time which does admittedly begin to feel a bit on the long side, but there’s still a strong level of engagement to be had with the film thanks to what it presents as a truly cinematic experience. Even without the exploration of his mystery and character/s Bowie is enough himself to command the screen, particularly within concert footage – we see people early on describing just what they like about him, when asked why she’s crying one girl simply replies “he’s smashin'”.
There’s a casual humour to the film. Largely coming from the central figure in interview clips. It puts us on a more equal plain to him and opens up another level of accessibility and openness. Such points are certainly not frequent, but they add a slight extra detail which helps to push your involvement in the mixture of the film as a whole. One which is part concert film, part career documentary and part personality drama. It’s all well balanced and helps to form the narrative which is being developed through the use of footage and following of the stages of Bowie and his developing career from the early-70s to the late-90s. A rolling tide of intense visuals and chest-pounding sound brings you into the potential world of David Bowie and who he was through his characters. All while keeping his mystery intact. It’s a brilliantly constructed film made to be experienced on the biggest screen possible. The title seems to sum it up rather well.
Part concert film, part career documentary, part personality drama there’s plenty of themes within the wonderfully edited and controlled Moonage Daydream to match the force of the colourful images and powerful sound. A true cinematic experience which explores Bowie’s character/s while keeping him intact.