Saturday, August 09, 2014

David Bowie: Five Years

Directed by Francis Whately, David Bowie: Five Years is a documentary into the key five years that defined David Bowie’s ascent to superstardom. Told through archival and rare footage along with interviews from collaborators and journalists, the film is an exploration into Bowie’s thirst for re-invention and how he managed to keep people guessing from his days as Ziggy Stardust in the early 1970s to becoming a pop megastar in the early 1980s. The result is a fascinating and comprehensive film about the career of one of popular music’s greatest icons.

For nearly fifty years, there has been no artist in the history of popular music who had managed to reinvent himself with such precision and artistry better than David Bowie. Whether it’s through space-folk music, glam rock, plastic soul, art-rock, or whatever he is doing. Bowie would often be at the center of a certain movement or create something new that would spark new trends despite his hatred for them. What this film does is tell Bowie’s ascent to mega-stardom in five different years of his career. The first is about Bowie as the glam-rock superstar Ziggy Stardust while the second year focuses on his flirtation with Philadelphia soul music and his Thin White Duke persona. The third is about Bowie’s Berlin trilogy with Brian Eno while the fourth year is about the making of his 1980 album Scary Monsters and the groundbreaking videos he would make for two of its singles. The fifth and final year is about Let’s Dance and becoming part of the mainstream after being known as a cult artist.

Though it’s not surprising that Bowie is only presented through archival footage including some rare footage of concert performances and outtakes along with some audio interviews as the man himself hasn’t spoken publicly in nearly a decade. The film allows Bowie to be told not just through these footage but also to the people that had worked with him such as producers Ken Scott, Tony Visconti, and Nile Rodgers as well as collaborators like Brian Eno, Carlos Alomar, Dennis Davis, Rick Wakeman of Yes, Robert Fripp of King Crimson, Earl Slick, Robin Clark, Geoff MacCormack, filmmaker David Mallet, Carmine Rojas, Ava Cherry, the late Trevor Bolder, and the late Mick Ronson from a 1992 interview. Also interviewed are journalists in John Harris, Camille Paglia, Charles Shaar Murphy, and hip-hop historian Nelson George.

Many of them talk about Bowie’s methods as an artist and what he was doing at the time where Alomar and Davis both talked about how Eno would get them out of their comfort zone during the sessions for 1977’s Low while Clark and Cherry talked about Bowie’s approach to vocal arrangements in how unconventional they were as much of it was done with the collaboration of a then-unknown singer in Luther Vandross. Nelson George talked about Bowie’s contribution to soul music as well as his importance in the 1980s when Let’s Dance became a major hit as it crossed all barriers from his hardcore fans to the casual ones who had just discovered him. Alomar, Rodgers, and Slick would showcase how some of Bowie’s great songs were made as does Rick Wakeman who would play the piano accompaniment for Life on Mars? which he hadn’t played since it was recorded.

Through some stylish editing that displays much of the footage including some rare outtakes of the Life on Mars? video along with rare interviews and performances from the tours that Bowie did between 1972 and 1983. Yet, the film bookends with Bowie’s current state of seclusion as many of his collaborators and journalists feel that the release of his most recent album The Next Day is just another of Bowie’s constant game in reinventing himself and the art of playing the world of celebrity in an age where so much is expected in the world of celebrity.

David Bowie: Five Years is an excellent documentary from Francis Whately and the BBC about the artist. The film is definitely something that Bowie fans will definitely find essential in the rare footage that they see while audiences who don’t know much about Bowie will get the chance to understand his approach as an artist. In the end, David Bowie: Five Years is an extraordinary film from Francis Whately.

Related: Cracked Actor - David Bowie: The Last Five Years - David Bowie: Finding Fame

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