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what Moonage Daydream got so very wrong.
i'm an alligator.
I kept waiting to be enraptured through Moonage Daydream, the new David Bowie documentary that has gotten an insane amount of hype. I’m glad I saw it, but there was seriously no need to rush out to see it in IMAX, and I am not sure that I enjoyed the actual film itself. I enjoyed seeing and hearing David Bowie again, but given the hoopla and the access to the archive I expected so much more.
I tried, very hard, to make the connections that were implied by the director between the visuals he used and the particular location of the story, but that was too much work! He was throwing so much at us and then we have to connect the dots between a rapid-fire gallery of famous paintings and how they impacted David Bowie? Sorry (as the meme says) but i am not doing all of that, and I know the history, I can recite it chapter and verse. If I’m lost then what does that mean for people who aren’t as invested? If this film is meant to be part of extending Bowie’s creative or artistic legacy, it flat-out fails.
I hate when non-rock and roll people make rock and roll films, because they lack a solid understanding of why rock and roll matters to the people who consume it and what seems like an exciting revelation to them has been circulating underground for decades. Additionally, these projects always present the fans of the artist in the worst possible light. The depiction is always snide or sarcastic or disrespectful of the fans, and this film does all of that right up until the very end of the fucking thing. We wore dumb clothes in the 70s! People get excited and emotional at concerts especially when they don’t know a giant movie camera is aimed at their face in the dark! It’s not good-natured, it’s demeaning, it’s boring, and it has been done, over and over again.
It also has no point short of lol. I realize that for most straight white men, lol is as deep as they get. It’s just, like, fuck you. Bowie had a sense of humor and I’m sure he rolled his eyes at some of his more ardent fans, but let’s remember that the dude lurked on the bowienet message boards. He would not like the treatment his fans are given here. Also, there was just so much very grainy fan footage and I could not believe that after sitting through all of it at the beginning we had to watch more of it at the end. Here are fans queuing. Here are fans with Ziggy makeup. Here is some news footage of crying fans being mocked by a television interviewer. I am so annoyed I had to waste my time watching all of that.
What did David Bowie mean to the filmmaker? What did he mean to other musicians? What did he mean to his fans over the decades? What was his impact on music, on art, on the world? I cannot answer that question or tell you what the filmmaker’s conclusion to that question is from watching Moonage Daydream and I can tell you that I am definitely not going to see it again in order to try to figure it out. It is on the level of, I will watch it on a plane if it is there. Do not ask me to purchase it. I’m not even sure I’d watch it again on a streaming service unless I had one of my fanatic Bowie friends around and they wanted to watch it or use it as background or show me something I missed.
There is footage in here you have probably not seen (yes, that is Jeff Beck onstage), or that you have just seen hints of, those 1970s era cocaine ravaged shows, I watched them thinking (not for the first time), god, we are so lucky he survived. And this is one of the parts where I could at least follow the filmmaker’s thought process, Bowie was in LA and it got bad and scary and so he got himself to Berlin but I got more of a sense of David’s life in Berlin from the Berlin room at the David Bowie is here exhibition. And when you show me, a moderately crazy fan, rare footage, my immediate response is that I just want to see it all, no matter how bad it might be in terms of performance or sound or cinematography, especially the ham-fisted way it was used in this production. We deserve better.
Shout out to Tony Visconti for the sound mix! At least I didn't have to sit through this and deal with crappy sound.
I will admit that I walked out feeling inspired but that was not because of the film, it was because of David Bowie, even though it was a quote I'd heard before, about how artists need to push themselves and if you walk out into the water and you can just barely touch the bottom, then you might be getting somewhere. There is an assignment I have been offered that feels out of my sweet spot and I have said I will think about it but I am emailing them later to accept the assignment. Although that man worked incessantly in almost every art form that existed, the mantra was always, “Am I doing good work?”
But the fact that this happened wasn't because of the film, it was almost in spite of it. It happened because I already have a relationship with David Bowie and his art. I got that message because I had two and a half hours to amass Bowie footage and parse him saying words in interviews of varying value and quality, and at some point I let go of the hope I carried in that I was going to learn anything new, but I was going to watch parts of Hammersmith for the 38137234034th time. The first third of the film treads water for what feels like forever, we have to watch too many talk show clips with what felt like no critical assessment of their specific importance, and the entire time, I am just waiting for some kind of understanding as to what Morgen’s point is in all of this.
When I got home I texted a friend who is also a member of this particular church, asking if he thought we would see all of the rare live Bowie video footage before we all died. I was not being hyperbolic. JUST RELEASE IT, THE PEOPLE WHO CARE ARE LITERALLY AGING OUT OF BEING ABLE TO ENJOY IT. Also, if you have access to the entire archive and you choose to spend what felt like half of the 2 ½ hours showing us Hammersmith, I feel like you have both failed and actively demonstrated that you do not understand David Bowie. If you had never seen it before, I am sure that it seemed like the holy grail. IT IS NOT. There are too many smart and talented people out there doing thoughtful work for us to settle for something like this, so I'm not going to.
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