Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Cracked Actor

Directed by Alan Yentob for the BBC, Cracked Actor is a documentary about David Bowie’s 1974 American tour for the album Diamond Dogs just as Bowie was going into a period of transition away from the glam rock persona of Ziggy Stardust and towards his fascination with American soul music. The documentary reveals Bowie’s struggle to change into a different persona as well as work method and other eccentricities including his cocaine addiction at the time. The result is a fascinating portrait of one of rock music’s great icons.

The film is named after a song from David Bowie’s 1973 album Aladdin Sane which is appropriate since Bowie is a man who changes to find something new and stand out from whatever else is happening. In this documentary that is narrated by Yentob who also interviews Bowie for the duration of the 53-minute film. Yentob reveals a man who is becoming desperate to kill the character that has made him a major superstar around the world just as Bowie is trying to become a superstar in the U.S. on his own terms. The interview reveals Bowie worn out from the legend of Ziggy Stardust whom he felt had begun to overwhelm him.

The documentary also reveals Bowie becoming fascinated by America as he rides in a limo onto the American West with Carole King as he talks about a fly inside his milk carton as they’re listening to Aretha Franklin’s (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman that King co-wrote. Notably as he’s living in Los Angeles where he’s currently embarking on the very ambitious Diamond Dogs tour that featured an elaborate stage set and things that would be considered to be groundbreaking as the film features performances from these shows. The film also features footage from the D.A. Pennebaker documentary Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars to establish what made Bowie famous.

The film also features testimonials from fans who love the artist and why they consider him great as well as early examples of Bowie’s cut-and-paste writing style that he would experiment throughout the years as cut-up lyrics are presented in songs like Sweet Thing/Candidate and Moonage Daydream. Other footage includes vocal rehearsals for the song Right for the 1975 album Young Americans that would feature a young Luther Vandross who appear again in a revamped stage presentation of the tour where Bowie does a new rendition of John, I’m Only Dancing.

One part of the film that is startling to watch is the fact that Bowie is under the influence of cocaine as he’s seen sniffling in parts of the film as well as being paranoid. His appearance is also startling due to his cocaine addiction though Yentob doesn’t make any references to it as he is trying to get into Bowie’s fragile state of mind. Through the editing of Tony Woollard and Pat Darrin’s sound work, the documentary reveals a world that is very foreign from the eyes of a British as Bowie himself feels like an alien who has landed in a world that is new to him.

Cracked Actor is an intriguing yet haunting documentary from Alan Yentob about David Bowie in the mid-1970s. The film is a must for fans of Bowie to see during this period of transition as he would move from glam to American soul music that would become the basis for his 1975 album Young Americans. While it’s a film that only tells the story of a certain period in Bowie’s life, it is still an interesting piece to see a man dealing with fame and all of its trapping before it would nearly devour him. In the end, Cracked Actor is a fantastic documentary from Alan Yentob.

© thevoid99 2013

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