I always thought David Bowie, the person, was more intriguing than David Bowie, the musician. Something about the mystique of his androgynous alter persona and heavily costumed stagecraft usurped the controls from anything musicological or biographically revelatory. I think the very private “Mr. Stardust” himself would have liked it that way. Director Brett Morgen’s Moonage Daydream certainly agrees, and for the first time since Bowie’s passing, a family estate-approved documentary explores the glam and enigma of not everything David Bowie but certainly some things.
Like Bowie himself, this postmodern documentary takes a non-linear, impressionistic jump into the sound and chaos that roared inside his head only to be shared with the world as a cathartic exercise. For the most part, it works: Moonage Daydream is part life resuscitation piece for diehards and part mystery allurement piece for appreciative bystanders. (Music theorists and history gurus will leave empty-handed.)
Any human on earth who was born before the 90s should know that David Bowie is a complex package of awe, hearsay, and intended ambiguity. The details have always been and will always be vague. In a way, Morgen’s doc not only embraces this lore, it places another veil over the legend to keep the secrets more secret.
There is barely any mention of Bowie’s musical innovations in theory, arrangement, or lyrical context; his past relationships and children are left out; specific music collaborators aren’t mentioned; Bowie’s battle with addiction and triumph of sobriety isn’t explored; and, the vast cinematic canon and nostalgic album cover collection are only hinted at. An hour into the journey, I accepted this less informative approach and continued to ride the light show, stock footage, over-voiced interviews, and magic carpet because it felt like this is how you do a David Bowie documentary.
As the late and great film critic, Roger Ebert, would say: Books are for the facts; movies are for the “moods, tones, fears, imaginings, whims, speculations, and nightmares” (Roger Ebert’s review of JFK). As an audiovisual movie, Moonage Daydream successfully captures all of the above.
My favorite contributions to the experience are Bowie’s sporadic words about the joys of aging. If there’s one, clear observation to be made, it is that the human being (and alien) of David Bowie is constantly evolving to a point of creative buoyancy — a buoyancy not found in the child but the seasoned adult.
If you leave the IMAX Moonage Daydream experience without feeling buoyant, then you might not have a soul, and we will pray for you.
Thanks for reading and see this movie, especially if you’re a fan of Ziggy!
****1/2 out of *****