Review: MOONAGE DAYDREAM, Intense, Fitting Sonic Experience of David Bowie's Legacy
See it big and see it loud. It's one of the best moviegoing experiences of the year.
The Queen is dead. She lived to be 96 years old. David Bowie passed on in 2016, at only 69. There is no justice in this world.
More than any other cultural icon's death, Bowie's passing was most shocking to me. It's because I didn't think he was capable of dying. For more than half a century, his presence in our lives, in every facet of art and creativity was undeniable.
Me and my wife, aging Gen Xers, have four Bowie t-shirts in our daily wardrobe rotations between us, a The Man Who Fell to Earth art print, as well as Aladdin Sane vinyl album cover, adorn our living room wall, and we both consider The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars to be the perfect album from start to finish. In short, our Brooklyn apartment is better equipped with Bowie memorabilia than the SoHo Bowie pop-up store.
So how do you go on about making a documentary about one of the greatest musicians of our time, whose illustrious career spans more than five decades? What should it look and sound like? How do you capture a legend who knew few boundaries?
Brett Morgen, music documentarian, is best known for his innovative Kurt Cobain doc, Montage of Heck back in 2015. With the unprecedented access he got to make that film, he made sure that the film is from the subject's point of view, not anyone else’s. Concentrating on the music itself was the key.
Moonage Daydream, narrated by Bowie in his own words then, with a wealth of unseen pristine materials of him in his most gorgeous days, highly benefits Moonage Daydream. And Morgen's approach here is more resonant and fits better here than Montage because, after all, it is Bowie, whom the camera adored. I have to hand it to Morgen, who had a vision for a kaleidoscopic biographical documentary and was able to convince the estates of these musicians to grant him compete access to precious, never-before-seen materials.
So how did this shy boy from Brixton become a music, film, theater, dance and fashion icon? From the get-go, with the 70 mm IMAX projection and Dolby sound system, Moonage Daydream wastes no time blasting Bowie singing All the Young Dudes in concert footage. Morgen jumbles the pristine footage of Bowie in a Ziggy Stardust tour, backstage interviews, talk show appearances, his days in Singapore and the Blackstar music video to set the tone. Then the film slides into a chronological career of Bowie for the next two hours. It's a loud, candid, glorious and fitting celebration of the life of an artist.
Bowie's transformations and delving into different music genre over his career is well documented. The film highlights his endless searching, and candid moments of reflection; from his glam rock days, where he experimented with cut-up lyrics, to his grunge Berlin days, when he went there to isolate himself and find new sounds in electronica, to his hugely successful pop music stint in the 80s, to industrial sound of the 90s and 2000s. In candid interviews, he expresses regrets and is self-conscious about some of the career paths he has taken -- like appearing in a glitzy Pepsi commercial with Tina Turner.
We learn that even though he dabbled in painting and sculpture (in striking German Expressionism style), he never really exhibited them in public because he didn't think they were good enough.
Morgen also uses Stan Brakage-inspired animation of exploding primary colors to accompany the glorious music, punctuating the isolated beats and guitar riff that starts many of Bowie's famed songs. More than anything, Moonage Daydream sounds and feels like a rousing concert documentary where one can't help but feel emotional several times.
A consummate professional and entertainer, Bowie worked on his Blackstar album while he was dying of cancer. The album is staggeringly beautiful in its content, contemplating his entire career, his mortality and transient human life. He also became the first musician to reach the No.1 spot after his death.
Moonage Daydream is definitely the maximalist gift for Bowie fans. And no doubt, it will introduce one of the most, if not the most, important artists of our time, who was taken too soon, to a new generation of music lovers in a big way. See it big and see it loud. It's one of the best moviegoing experiences of the year.
Moonage Daydream opens in movie theaters and IMAX globally on Friday, September 16.
Dustin Chang is a freelance writer. His musings and opinions on everything cinema and beyond can be found at www.dustinchang.com
- Brett Morgen
- Brett Morgen
- David Bowie