Saturday, January 30, 2016

Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars

Directed by D.A. Pennebaker, Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars is a documentary concert film that chronicles David Bowie’s final show as Ziggy Stardust on July 3, 1973 at the Hammersmith Odeon in London. Featuring footage from the show as well as backstage material where Bowie would wear different costumes throughout the entirety of the show. The film also showcases Bowie’s final performance with the band that were part of the Spiders from Mars in guitarist Mick Ronson, bassist Trevor Bolder, and drummer Woody Woodmansey. The result is a powerful and evocative concert film from D.A. Pennebaker.

On July 3, 1973 at the Hammersmith Odeon in London, David Bowie would play the final show of his world tour that promoted 1972’s The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars and 1973’s Aladdin Sane. The show was to be a triumphant moment for the British superstar who a year ago had changed the landscape of popular music in Britain by pretending to be an alien rock star from Mars. The show itself would be not just one of Bowie’s greatest concerts but also a defining moment in his career where he would kill the character of Ziggy Stardust once and for all as it would also mark the last time he would play with his backing band in the Spiders from Mars.

Shot entirely in 16mm film, D.A. Pennebaker creates a film that doesn’t just capture the concert from the view of the audience and what is happening on the stage. Pennebaker also shows footages of what is happening backstage where Bowie would change costumes between songs or during a major instrumental break. Some of the backstage footage would show Bowie not only putting makeup on with some staff but also conversing with Ringo Starr who is at the show watching backstage. Along with cinematographers Mike Davis, Jim Desmond, Nick Dobb, and Randy Franken, Pennebaker maintains a hand-held style with a lot of close-ups and medium shots to capture the performance and the audience’s reaction. While the lighting may seem a little low for what was presented in the concert as it’s largely red lights and such. It does play into something that is unlike anything that was happening in 1973.

With the aid of editor Lorry Whitehead, Pennebaker gathers a lot of footage while creating some unique cutting of Moonage Daydream being performed while it’s heard in the background while Bowie is doing another costume change. It’s among these fine moments in the editing as well as showing how the audience reacts to songs where they sing along or just be enamored with the visuals. The performances themselves are just incredible not just of what Bowie was doing on the stage with mime and other aspects in his role. It was also the interaction he had with the audience and how he would share the spotlight with his band as Mick Ronson was a guitarist that was unlike anyone at the time who was doing guitar hero poses and moments that were just amazing. The rhythm section of Trevor Bolder and Mick “Woody” Woodmansey were just as great where Pennebaker gave those three men a chance to shine. Also in the performance were additional music that featured another of Bowie’s key collaborators in keyboardist/pianist Mike Garson as well as percussionist/backing vocalist Geoff MacCormack, guitarist/vocalist John Hutchinson, and saxophonists/flutists Ken Fordham and Brian Wilshaw.

Helping to make the music sound just as big as well as providing a nice balance in the mixing with the music and audience is Bowie’s longtime producer Tony Visconti who would help supervise the mix for the film’s 2002 re-release and remastering. The look of the film would be more crisp where Pennebaker would also maintain that raw look of the 16mm film while cleaning some of the footage up a bit.

Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars is a phenomenal film from D.A. Pennebaker. Not only is it one of the finest concert films ever made but it’s also a fascinating document into the world of 70s glam rock as well as a period in the life and career of David Bowie where he was probably Britain’s biggest star then. In the end, Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars is a spectacular film from D.A. Pennebaker.

Related: Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (album)

© thevoid99 2016

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