Written, directed, and edited by Brett Morgen, Moonage Daydream is a documentary about the life and music of David Bowie told through rare and unreleased footage including live concert footage that are Bowie’s own personal archives. The film that is made with the approval of the Bowie estate showcases the artist’s unique evolution and many personas he had created from the mid-1960s to his death in early 2016. The result is an immersive and kaleidoscopic film from Brett Morgen.
When it comes to the subject of an artist like David Bowie, it is truly difficult to pinpoint exactly what he is and who he is as the man himself never stuck to one style let alone any style. Up till his death in January 10, 2016, the man continuously maintained a sense of intrigue as well as keep people guessing as he refused to live life by anyone’s expectations. What this film does isn’t really go into the many aspects of his life as an artist and as a person but rather a man who is often trying to find something and continue to find out whoever he is. A traditional documentary would’ve played by the numbers and sometimes tell things that people already know but what Brett Morgen does is have the man himself tell his own story through archival audio and video footage including rare and unseen material that had been kept by Bowie for years with the permission from his estate to allow Morgen to tell Bowie’s story.
Using all sorts of footage from Bowie’s lifetime including concerts, rare home films, pictures, paintings, interviews, and the films that Bowie had appeared in. Morgen creates a film that doesn’t have a traditional narrative as it play more into a man growing up and finding himself as this alien rock star from Mars, a troubled singer with a serious cocaine problem, a nomad living in Berlin, a traveler in transition as he goes around the world and do movies, a superstar who reached the masses only to compromise himself as an artist, and a man who found stability and love in all aspects of life while living in the present. Throughout the course of the film, there are these images of outer space as if the cosmos are being created as they kind of serve as structure breaks to play into Bowie moving from one persona and into another.
While the film doesn’t dwell too much into Bowie’s personal life other than bits about his early life including his love for his older half-brother Terry and later his second marriage to the model Iman. Morgen chooses to focus mostly on Bowie as he constantly changes and goes from one place to another in his own search for identity and meaning while it doesn’t include bits about Bowie’s time in Tin Machine from 1989 to 1992 which is just a minor omission as it doesn’t have any effect on the film’s unconventional narrative. Notably as it play on these key events such as Bowie’s stardom in the 70s to becoming this mega-superstar in the early 80s only to struggle with who he is as an artist and what people want in the second half of the decade. In the 1990s, Bowie found personal happiness in both as an artist and as a person up till the end of his life as he also talks about the idea of embracing chaos early and then eventually into finding some form of order with elements of chaos.
Among some of the footage shown in the film aren’t just films that Bowie starred in but also other films that play into Bowie’s own philosophies on life and art that include some of his own paintings where he explained why he never did an art gallery mainly because he considers his own paintings to be personal. Among some of the rare footage include some live performances as well as outtakes from music videos, promotional bits, his 1980 stage performance for The Elephant Man on Broadway, and other rare films including projects such as Love You Till Tuesday and the documentary Ricochet. One notably rare bit that is given some restoration is from the D.A. Pennebaker’s 1983 concert documentary film Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars that features Bowie and the band playing The Jean Genie with the Beatles’ Love Me Do with Jeff Beck that never made it to the final film and had often been shown in poor condition. What the film shows is a new look and the performance itself is among one of the gems shown.
Serving as the editor, Morgen does use a lot of footage, TV interviews, and rare footage presented and mix it with some film footage as well as some unique animated pieces by Stefan Nadelman and Vello Virkhaus that includes a rotoscope animated piece from outtakes for the music video Fame ’90 by Gus Van Sant in which Bowie is dancing with Louise Lecavalier of the Quebecois contemporary dance group La La La Human Steps who toured with Bowie in 1990 as it played into Bowie’s new outlook on life in the 1990s. Sound designers Samir Foco, Nina Hartstone, and John Warhurst help gather many of the audio from the many interviews that Bowie did in his lifetime along with excerpts from films and his music.
The film’s music is presented in a bit of a remix and collage style as it play into his many evolutions and periods in those years as a lot of it is supervised by Bowie’s longtime producer Tony Visconti with Morgan also doing some of the mixing as well. Using not just some of Bowie’s hits but also deep cuts and instrumentals made throughout his career as it adds to the dramatic presentation of the film. Even as some of the deep cuts are presented in a new lights along with some of the live performances as the music sounds not just broader but also effective in their live setting.
Moonage Daydream is a tremendous film from Brett Morgen. While for anyone that doesn’t know much about David Bowie or are new to him are going to be confused at first by its unconventional structure yet will be amazed by the footage it does provide. For fans of Bowie, this film is a must to watch in terms of the rare footage as well as the chance to experience something that is more than just an audio/visual tribute to Bowie but also as a film that play into the man and his many guises and journeys he took into being this great figure of popular culture that the universe know and love. In the end, Moonage Daydream is a spectacular film from Brett Morgen.
Brett Morgen Films: The Kid Stays in the Picture - Crossfire Hurricane - Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck - (Jane (2017 film))
Related: Cracked Actor - Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars - Jazzin' for Blue Jean - David Bowie: Five Years - David Bowie: The Last Five Years - David Bowie: Finding Fame
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