A new documentary about the life and work of the late, great pop pioneer David Bowie, created by Kurt Cobain: Montage Of Heck director Brett Morgen, with the backing of Bowie’s estate and featuring a wealth of rare and never-before-seen footage.
While David Bowie’s reputation as one of the greatest, most influential musicians of the 20th century remains unassailable, cynics might ask why we need another film about him. There have already been more than a dozen mostly made-for-TV documentaries profiling Brixton-born Bowie, as well as Gabriel Range’s misfiring 2020 biopic Stardust and Todd Haynes’ vivid, fictionalised version of Bowie and his glam-rock cohorts in Velvet Goldmine. Crucially, Range and Haynes weren’t allowed to use Bowie’s music. For Moonage Daydreamhowever, director Brett Morgen was granted unrestricted access to the Bowie catalogue and has made the most of this rare opportunity.
What music it is, and what magic the American filmmaker weaves with it. We leap between rare and, occasionally, never-released archive performances from Bowie’s major tours. These include the Ziggy Stardust Tour during the early ’70s, 1974’s Diamond Dogs, and the Serious Moonlight excursion of 1983, which followed the spectacular success of ‘Let’s Dance’, his biggest US hit. We gasp at stirring versions of some of the most anthemic art-pop earworms ever recorded, from ‘Heroes’ to ‘Life On Mars’ to ‘Space Oddity’. Full-blooded on-stage renditions aside, there are fragments pumped up, teased and twisted into mash-ups by Morgen, who also writes, produces and edits — though the overall sonic tapestry is woven with the assistance of Bowie’s long-time producer and key collaborator, Tony Visconti. Throughout, Bowie’s narration (culled from various interviews) plays over the on-screen action, delivered in the London accent he never lost through all his persona ch-ch-changes.
Immense creative energy has been invested in telling Bowie’s story.
The sound, then, is a delight, from the booming ‘Hello Spaceboy’ over the opening credits onwards, even if some might quibble at the omission of the odd banger (what, no ‘Young Americans’?). Visually, immense creative energy has been invested in telling Bowie’s story, with striking animated sequences dotted among the footage of him prowling the stage in bold glam finery. Searing reds, lush greens, popping purples and flaming oranges abound. There are snippets of Bowie-friendly delights like Metropolis and The Red Shoesalongside films he starred in, such as Labyrinth and Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence. One feels almost contractually obliged to describe it all as “kaleidoscopic”.
Morgen’s previous music docs, Crossfire Hurricane and Kurt Cobain: Montage Of Heckoffered revealing portraits, but Moonage Daydream represents a seismic leap forward in ambition. The primary focus on Bowie’s ’70s output means his fascinating late work is slightly neglected, while the close involvement of Bowie’s estate prevents the inclusion of anything too controversial. Regardless, this is the definitive Bowie documentary, and appointment viewing for devotees and casual fans alike.
A spectacular documentary portrait of a great artist and extraordinary pop star. Despite a few omissions, it’s a triumph of Sound And Vision, and essential for every David Bowie fan.