“Moonage Daydream” is the new comprehensive documentary of David Bowie by Brett Morgen, who previously tackled Kurt Cobain. This film, currently playing at the Tropic Cinema, not only dazzles the eye but sizzles and fries it with an onslaught of spastic color and vibrational sound that is overwhelming. If you have synesthesia, and can see sounds as color, this film is custom made for you.
What emerges is not an analysis of the artist’s life but a visual diary of his sounds and images which make a video looking glass of Bowie as a creative being. The film is jarring, propulsive, melancholy, eerie and energetic. While it offers few concrete answers on what made Bowie the man, we have a pictorial scroll of his mental pictures, a kind of philosophical record of his ideas through imagery.
David Duncan Jones was born in 1947 in Bristol. By his own admission he “landed” on planet Earth. He had a normal childhood in a monochrome cement apartment, meaning he went to school and ate dinner. He developed a friendship with his half-brother who floated between different families and shared art and music with the young Jones that was outside the status quo. Jones was hooked by anything unusual. The half-brother joined the RAF, developed schizophrenia and was sent away to an institution. This deeply affected the young boy.
Jones grew compelled to express himself, having a fear of becoming mentally ill. His artistic expression is a way to combat these fears. Jones wrote his first songs using fragments from his poems or journals that he would cut with scissors and select them at random in much the same way as the Surrealists did in the 1920s.
From Duncan Jones, David Bowie emerged crafted and synthetically made from either imagination or a universal signal, only to melt into Ziggy Stardust, a hermaphrodite spaceman with a white face, turquoise eye shadow, red lipstick and flaming hair like a rocket on fire. He often looked vacantly or glared at the audience. Misfits and progressives championed him. The conservatives were repelled and disgusted. Still, Bowie marched on.
Startling it is to see Bowie on Dick Cavett, pale, frail and jittery with jagged margarine yellow teeth and a walking stick. A vampire. An android.
Bowie became obsessed by the rock god messiah concept, a leader as a flickering image. “Dylan, Lennon.. we all don’t exist in reality. We are in The Twilight Zone”.
When asked by an interviewer to describe himself, Bowie says “I am a collector of personalities.” As such he is an Andy Warhol machine, a polished mirror, a reflector of the audience in front of him who look at him in loving submission.
After being overwhelmed by drugs and stimuli, he retreated into a pedestrian guise and went to Berlin to record the album Low, a collection of abstract poems using synthesizers and drums. Some said it was his best album.
Then Bowie does what he thinks is the weirdest thing of all by transforming into a mainstream pop icon. Bowie dresses in sharkskin suits. His songs are less eerie and become tunes to dance to. Bowie is famous, on par with Elton John. He visits a Buddhist temple. The monk seems to spit at him as if to rid Bowie from Western poltergeists.
He travels as a bohemian to country after country at breakneck speed to spread his blonde audible molecules about: the handsome man with the voice that rises and falls.
He meets Iman and somewhat settles.
His next act is of a retiring astronaut who critiques man and the media. As in his masterful performance as Thomas Newton in “The Man Who Fell to Earth.”
In the documentary, Bowie is watching us from the stage as images hover around us. Nosferatu. Nixon. Jackie O. Andy Warhol. Vietnam. Rockets. Crowds grabbing at the fire haired spaceman, sick with love.
Bowie’s last guise is of a fallen traveler, bed bound and agape. He becomes part of a prayer circle as a group of women are either binding him to earth or releasing him into the air. As he says in the film “Who am I? All is transient. Does it even matter?”
“Moonage Daydream” is a fluid web of dizzy color that inscribes Bowie into a circle of witchcraft. He landed in England as a hybrid of spaceman and vampire transforming into a handsome icon of stage and screen. Only to transform into an astronaut stricken with extraterrestrial cancer.
Now immortal, David Bowie is that “fluid energy force” that he once believed in. As a pop icon and an everlasting video transmission, Bowie can project himself forever, his chiseled pale blonde face, in every cinema, theater, home or bedroom, becoming many creatures to many people.
Write Ian at firstname.lastname@example.org