David Bowie movie Moonage Daydream: Throw away all preconceptions, this is not a musical documentary

Don’t be fooled. Moonage Daydream is not a David Bowie documentary.

Throw away any preconceptions based on musical docos you’ve seen previously, as these will leave you woefully unprepared for the experience of watching acclaimed filmmaker Brett Morgen’s latest film.

It might be more helpful to think of it as a cultural artifact, left on our planet by an advanced race of aliens, of which Bowie was Alien-in-Chief.

Taking on a form our weak human brains could understand, and the name Ziggy, this intergalactic being first attempted to peacefully secure our assimilation through song.

Posted in the 1972 track Starman, with the help of the Spiders from Mars, the invitation couldn’t have been more explicit.

There is a starman waiting in the sky. He would love to come meet us, but he thinks he’s going to blow us away.

Ziggy’s hazy cosmic jive resonated with the generation caught between Flower Power and punk – who knew not to mess it all up, because it was all worth it – but the rest of humanity viewed this visitor with skepticism.

Camera iconDirector Brett Morgen at the premiere of Moonage Daydream during the 75th Cannes Film Festival in May. Credit: Olivier Vigerie/Olivier Vigerie

Unfamiliar with our customs, this otherworldly creature playfully created ambiguity around its gender, but it defied our societal norms.

Looking at the breathless excitement generated by Harry Styles in a robe these days, Bowie was clearly just ahead of his time.

In the early 1970s, without the influential power of TikTok at your fingertips, humanity’s transition to a high level of existence was considerably more difficult, so this star man evolved and evolved again.

Failing to accurately reflect its surroundings as much as grotesquely exaggerating them in an effort to impress us with this feat of imitation.

A profound understanding of the human condition and its inherent flaws was written, or so he hoped, in its extravagant mimicry.

A thin and white duke, a clown, a goblin king, a rock pirate, a linen-clad riverboat captain, an 80s dude, a regular dude, a cyber-punk and, finally, a smart-casual icon.

However, to Bowie’s dismay, humanity never rose to a higher wavelength until its time with us was over. Morgen was therefore chosen as the only Earthling with access to a rich archive of alien works left behind.

The director’s mission: to assemble the works into a re-education tool that eschews peaceful assimilation of our species in favor of forced brainwashing to help us achieve true cosmic enlightenment.

So, yes, it’s not a documentary.

“OK, you just made my day,” Morgen told STM in a Zoom call, when confronted with the allegation that his film is actually extraterrestrial propaganda.

“I just have to tell you that you are the first person who could have understood the film on the level that I was trying to create.

“I’m going to share something with you that I don’t think I’ve talked about before, but, when I was conceiving the film, I had two ideas which I wrote down in my journal – one was that this whole film is a transmission plays in a sort of drive-in theater on a distant planet, where other beings watch the story of one of their own, like David, one of their own who went exploring.

“And the other idea I had was that if you took this movie and buried it, and society blew itself up, when other sentient beings came down to earth and found out, in 10,000 years, they wouldn’t wouldn’t know if it was real life, a fictional movie, a documentary about a prophet, or one of their own, who had visited Earth 10,000 years earlier and left them this message.

It’s fair to say that Morgen has a very different definition of “factual cinema”, which comes as no surprise to those who have seen his previous films, including 2017’s excellent Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck and Jane. , an incredibly accomplished biography of primatologist Jane. Good everything.

David Bowie died in 2016 at age 69, after a private battle with liver cancer.
Camera iconDavid Bowie died in 2016 at age 69, after a private battle with liver cancer. Credit: Universal images

Where some documentarians see a rigid requirement for historical accuracy, this 53-year-old Californian director sees a challenge in revealing something far more elusive: the truth.

You won’t find Moonage Daydream filled with facts, figures and talking heads, which is the typical stock-in-trade of a doco.

But it’s not just about not knowing where the British singer’s 1980 LP Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps) peaked on the Norwegian charts – #3, in case you were curious.

Viewers who don’t know Bowie died in 2016 at age 69, after a private battle with liver cancer, won’t learn that from Morgen’s film, because, surprisingly, he doesn’t once acknowledge that the singer is dead.

Or that he recorded his most famous songs in the studio, like most artists, with the help of producers (most often it was Tony Visconti).

If you’re expecting that, you’re confusing this film with a doco about a man born David Robert Jones in Brixton in the late 1940s.

“It’s not a David Jones biography,” confirms Morgen. “It’s a Bowie movie, and Bowie never died.”

Consequently, audiences will walk away with little concrete evidence of how the singer crafted his greatest hits, or that he was, for any considerable time, heavily addicted to cocaine, but you will leave the theater positively vibrant with proxy. with Bowie’s motivation to do both.

“You can’t cut 69 years (of Bowie’s life) down to two hours, and, you know, hitting all the beats, that’s not a movie, that’s a Wikipedia entry,” the director explains.

“Facts, for me, have no place in a cinema, which does not mean that I do not believe in facts, but I try to make a cinema of truth.”

However, the ability to hunt this truth would not have been possible if Morgen had not been granted unprecedented access to Bowie’s photographic and video archives by the singer’s estate.

The most interesting part of how this access was achieved is that the groundwork for gaining approval was laid while Bowie was still very much alive.

“I had met David in 2007, and at that time had made a film a few years earlier called The Kid Stays in the Picture, which David and his executor were fans of,” Morgen recalled.

“I pitched for (Moonage Daydream), but nothing came of it, mainly because it would have required him to shoot for 40 or 50 days, and he was sort of retired.

Morgen gained unprecedented access to Bowie's image and video archive.
Camera iconMorgen gained unprecedented access to Bowie’s image and video archive. Credit: Universal images

“But (Bill Zysblat), his executor, was in the room when I introduced David and understood whatever David’s impression of that meeting was, so nine years later when I called him in the months following Bowie’s passing and explained to him what I was interested in, he felt that was pretty sympathetic with what they were interested in doing.

From that point on, the most difficult aspect of the project was navigating the winding road of Bowie’s various incarnations in a way that would make narrative sense and deciding which songs and live performances to include.

Fans will be delighted to hear that Morgen collaborated with Visconti to remix and remaster said songs for a theatrical environment – ​​the result of that work is frankly stunning – and the final tally is over 40 tracks.

With the film following a mostly chronological structure, train watchers will instantly realize that Bowie’s biggest hit, Space Oddity, is in the wrong place.

Morgen did not feature the song fully until he used footage of Bowie performing an acoustic version at his 50th anniversary concert at Madison Square Garden in 1997.

But Space Oddity was actually released 28 years earlier in 1969, five days before the launch of Apollo 11, and three years and three albums before The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.

It was an inconvenient fact, even for a filmmaker as relieved by the facts as Morgen.

“You know, the use of Space Oddity in the film, maybe I didn’t think of it because no one told me about it, but it’s one of my proudest and most accomplished accomplishments. in the film”, reveals the director.

“I tease it at the very beginning of the movie, a few guitar stabs of Space Oddity, it’s the earliest known piece of music, then I turn left and go into (the 1996 Pet Shop Boys remix) Hallo Spaceboy .

“Yeah, it was very cheeky, and I was kind of playing with the expectations of the audience… (but) depending on the beginning of the movie, who Ziggy was, if you knew the Wikipedia of David’s life, then you know we’ve already passed Space Oddity.

Prior to this song, Bowie’s career was far from secure, with his debut album two years earlier a commercial failure.

Space Oddity was the first example of the artist’s prodigious talent, but it was also essentially a metaphorical concept song, inspired by Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, and released when Bowie was much closer to being Robert Jones than Ziggy. Stardust.

By the time he performed it in Madison Square Garden, however, the iconic piece of music had taken on a life of its own, and the metaphor it contains is an apt description of Bowie’s own rise to the stars.

“If you’re doing a music documentary, that’s kind of where you want to go, which is to take a song that we’ve heard countless times and experience it in a new light, with a new sense, and so I felt hearing Space Oddity at that time was exactly where it needed to exist,” says the director.

“I hope the viewer will feel they have a deeper connection to Bowie (after watching Moonage Daydream), but more importantly an opportunity for self-examination, which I think David has always provided for us. – a window into ourselves, not into the life of David Jones.

Moonage Daydream hits theaters on September 15.

About Debra D. Johnson

Check Also

San Diego International Film Festival to return in October

The San Diego International Film Festival is thrilled to screen films for the 21st Annual …