Yesterday a few friends and I strolled over to our nearest theater to catch the IMAX showing of Moonage Daydream, the new David Bowie cinematic experience. The film was directed by Brett Morgen and was officially sanctioned by the Bowie estate, so ever since I saw the trailer and read up on it, I was eager to see what was going to come to the big screen.
My quick take is that this is a must-see film for anyone that would say they’re a fan of Bowie or even artists that are Bowie adjacent, mostly for the sheer fact that we’re blessed with a ton of old, shaky, grainy concert footage that you haven’t seen before. For casual fans, though, this film is likely going to show you a ton of stuff that you really don’t understand what you’re seeing, and with little exposition or voice-over context to what the director is showing you, you may feel like you have some homework to do when you get back from the theater. Neither of which makes this the best movie you’ll see this year nor the worst way to spend a Saturday afternoon, so I’d definitely recommend it.
Here are some of the things I loved about the film:
- Bowie’s Music – It’s only fitting that this production is going to get the highest marks for its use of David Bowie’s music within the movie, and the entire thing benefits hugely from the use of live versions of many of his famous songs and further deepened my respect for what he delivered whenever he got on stage. The whole musical release accompanying the film features some of these gems and would be a recommended listen after you see the movie.
- Old Concert & Fan Footage – Along with the music itself, the old footage of Bowie playing live throughout the years was a big highlight and something I could have seen more of and still been happy. All the shots of the old school fans just absolutely losing their shit when they see him was great, too.
- Still Photography – Some of the photography they show just made me completely in awe of how stunningly handsome he could be in one frame and yet almost grotesquely silly and ugly in the next frame. The director seemed to have a fun time juxtaposing these two sides of Bowie throughout.
- Bowie’s Art – I imagine I could have looked this up at some point but besides the obvious movie roles I knew he’s starred in over the years, I had no idea what else Bowie was capable of when he wasn’t in a music studio. Some of his art was incredible and I enjoyed getting this as part of the experience.
- His Own Words – The decision to use Bowie’s own interviews as the only real exposition or narration really made this a film about what Bowie thought about life, creating art, and how he built the many personas he lived as.
There were a few other things in the movie that I could have done without:
- Overuse of Psychedelic Montages – In some parts of the film we’re meant to get lost in the music and the visual effects on the screen, which was more distracting at times than enjoyable. If you go in expecting the movie to feel more like a super long music video then this stuff could feel more sensible, but at times I needed less of this and just wanted some images to stand on their own.
- Random Images Interspersed From Old Films – I’m still a little stuck on why the director chose to keep visually referencing old films like Metropolis and Nosferatu without more context; were these films that Bowie particularly loved and/or took influence from? It’s not that they were used once or twice, these images kept getting callbacks and I’m not sure they ever really paid off.
- Brushing Over His Sexuality & Relationships – While I liked that we get references to Bowie’s bisexuality quite early in the process, including his ability to be open about this on television appearances quite early in his career, I wanted more here, especially as most of the film is dedicated to showing that Bowie was quite reserved and had a hard time opening up until he met his model wife, Iman. I’ll say this is a minor gripe because it’s also very clear the focus of the film is how David Bowie creates, not who he chooses to sleep with.
- Not Showing His Zoolander cameo – We get images from most of Bowie’s foray into films and acting and yet not even a single frame dedicated to his marvelous performance in the cult classic, Zoolander.
If that last point is any indication, there really wasn’t much wrong with the film and I enjoyed it immensely. And I’m up early the next morning listening to David Bowie with a new appreciation for just how creative and interesting this visionary artist truly was, so it definitely stuck with me.
Moonage Daydream may just make you an even bigger Bowie fan than you were, or turn you into one if you weren’t already. If that wasn’t the point, it’s a nice unintended consequence. Definitely go see this one.