Were he still around, David Bowie would no doubt approve of Moonage Daydream, filmmaker Brett Morgen’s new documentary about him. Like Bowie’s art, it’s a spinning mosaic of sound and vision.
“Sound and Vision” is among the Bowie chestnuts heard in the film, although it’s by no means a mere “greatest hits” exercise (“Life on Mars,” for example, makes only a brief appearance, and “Rebel Rebel,” “Golden Years” and “Young Americans,” among others, are MIA). It’s musical, however, from start to finish, and loud to the point of explosive.
Neither is Moonage Daydream a linear narrative. Eras, influences – and opinions – come and go. The film is nearly half over before Bowie, in voiceover, talks about growing-up days in the British town of Brixton, alongside an older half-brother who turned him on to Kerouac and Coltrane.
Anyway, it’s not your standard documentary. There are – in a refreshing break from tradition – no talking heads, no contemporaries or childhood chums to explain what made Bowie such a unique human being and artist.
It’s a stylistically dazzling film, blending images of the former David Jones – from concert appearances, TV interviews and other footage (he must have been one of the most filmed and photographed people in modern history) – with classic science fiction clips, abstract and classical art, newsreels and more.
Its speed-edit assemblage makes Moonage Daydream, at times, feel like the big-screen equivalent of John Lennon’s “Revolution 9.”
At the center of it all is rock’s most appealing chameleonic character, from his androgynous Ziggy Stardust alter ego through the well-coiffed GQ gent of the 1980s (Bowie’s “Thin White Duke” soul-music period is, curiously, almost totally unrepresented).
In audio and video interviews, Bowie explains why he felt compelled to change both his music, and his physical appearance, every few years during his glory period in the 1970s.
The audience learns that he was restless, grew bored easily, and felt himself turning into something of a charlatan if he repeated himself.
Indeed, Bowie’s artistic growth in the ‘70s was staggering – and remains unmatched to this day.
He presents his personal beliefs and theories about life, love, art, mankind and mortality.
One of the film’s best segments involves his move to Berlin mid-decade, to see what settling in a new, unknown (to him) city would do to his music and songwriting.
Out of this came, among others, “Heroes” and the tone poem “Warszawa,” both of which are featured in brilliant live versions. And a particularly chaotic period in the artist’s life is soundtracked with the skittering “mad piano” section of “Aladdin Sane.”
There’s a sequence blending two (or maybe three) versions of “Space Oddity,” filmed in different eras, in front of different live audiences.
The footage includes snippets from The Man Who Fell to Earth, Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence, Labyrinth and other films in which Bowie acted.
At well over two hours, Moonage Daydream goes on a bit too long. This is especially evident in the last 30 minutes, which cover the period from Bowie’s last major hit record in the mid ‘80s, though his death in 2016.
This part of the film stretches things to their limits, like a CD box set where all the good stuff’s on the first three discs, and the less-interesting “later years” are jammed onto the fourth.
Still, it makes for a more complete look at the artist’s career arc. Rock ‘n’ roll has produced few characters as fascinating as David Bowie, and Moonage Daydream holds up a pretty significant magnifying glass.
In St. Petersburg, Moonage Daydream is now playing at Greenlight Cinema, AMC Sundial 12 and Regal Park Place.