Upholding the Mystery in What Is David Bowie

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.

“The truth is, of course, that there is no journey. We are arriving and departing all at the same time.”

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!

RB

****1/2 out of *****

28 thoughts on “Upholding the Mystery in What Is David Bowie

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  1. I saw it on my birthday in Imax and was blown away. I had tears, smiles and goosebumps throughout. It was a spellbinding audio and visual ‘experience’ I would say. Huge credit to the team because it was a masterclass of editing to achieve what they did.

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    1. What a wonderful birthday experience. Yes, the team’s research and collection of never-before-seen visuals were stunning, and the live performance footage gave me chills. A professional performer. I wish I got a chance to see him. This was the closest thing 🙂

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  2. I want to see this bad. I’m glad it’s not a regular biopic. I will be the first admit though…I do like the facts right in based on a story movies. That is why I lean toward documentaries.

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    1. I thought of you right away because I know you appreciate this innovative music, and it’s freaking Bowie (!!!). Yeah, I think going in knowing it won’t be a straightforward, fact-checker will actually make the experience more fun for you. I still have questions, and I want more, but I left with an incredible David Bowie experience, and it was phenomenal in IMAX 🙂

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      1. Soemthing like that…yea I don’t mind at all about facts beause it’s more of a feel.
        It’s when…say the Queen Biopic was just out of order and told things that didn’t happen that bothered me.

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          1. Bailey saw it a couple of nights ago with his girlfriend… he kept saying it was more a feeling than a documentary…he loved it. You two seem to see the same movies around the same time lol.

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            1. Right on, right on. Yes, more a feeling/experience. I always liked how Roger Ebert said he’ll go to books for the facts, but the movie is for an all-encompassing experience with myth and questions. Glad Bailey liked it too!

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            2. Yea I have to see it and the Elvis one also…speaking of the Big E…we are going to Graceland this weekend. I’ve seen it 2-3 times but Bailey never has…should be fun.

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            3. We live around 3 1/2 hours away…you live around 18-19 hours away lol. That is how long it took us to drive from Denver to my home.

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            4. I’ll be here. I understand…at least you know what to expect this time! More sleepless nights lol.

              Liked by 1 person

            5. Yeah, that first time was full of anxiety and unknown. This time, I’m more excited and prepared for lost sleep. I can do this! I can do this! Great to have support from peeps like you. Movies and music always help too. I’m excited to sneak in some horror movies too 🙂

              Liked by 1 person

            6. Oh yea…the horror season is on us…I want to see Smile.
              Yea this time it will be a breeze…NOT…but fun all the same.

              Liked by 1 person

  3. I LOVE David Bowie’s quote about aging….”Aging – an extraordinary process whereby you become the person you always should have been” Also, if you a couple of minutes, watch his duet with Bing Crosby – Drummer Boy/Peace on Earth. Brilliant! Can’t wait to see this documentary. Thanks for the suggestion!

    Liked by 1 person

          1. Yep, I see what you mean. He even jibed towards the popular appeal of his own music in the mid-80’s to make lots of money even though he admitted he didn’t personally like the songs that much. According to the interview. I recently wrote about ‘Heroes’. I have a couple more in my project on him.

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  4. Looking forward to seeing this, and would definitely like to see it in IMAX, but a little film named Avatar is arriving on the scene and kicking this Bowie film to standard theatres. We shall see if we can catch the “full” experience as intended. Wife is a big Bowie fan and introduced me to his older Ziggy work, and we both followed his career thereafter until his untimely passing. I liked your mention of the Ebert quote about what movies are “for.” Glad you got to see and enjoy this film, and I enjoyed this review. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. If anything, BOTH movies are tailor made for IMAX. In fact, I wouldn’t go to either unless viewed in IMAX, haha! But, if your wife is a big Bowie, you just have to see it! Yes, RIP Roger Ebert. I miss him.

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