I can recall when David Bowie fell to earth and shattered the rock scene with his androgenous outrageousness.
At the time, people wondered: Who was he? What was he? A human being? A robot? An alien from another world?
No one seemed to care. He was pure energy and excitement—a gender-bending pioneer. He was that rare presence that rattled the cage of pop music and refused to be ignored.
The remainder of his life is now the stuff of legend. Bowie was an incomparable talent who managed to rock and shock and leave an indelible mark that will resonate forever.
He’s the perfect subject for a biopic. He was flamboyant and fascinating. A mix of killer good looks and smooth stage presence and the fearlessness to do anything he damn well pleased. He constantly re-invented himself, first as a recording artist and later as a movie star, Broadway star and painter.
When I saw the trailers for Brett Morgan’s Bowie tribute film Moonage Daydream I was as excited as his legion of look-alike teenage fans who jammed his early performances.
It looked like a high energy ride.
To its credit, Moonage Daydream delivers on that. It’s an IMAX extravaganza of thunderous sound and kaleidoscopic images that harken back to the era of psychedelic drugs and experiences. The first half hour or so is a bombardment of sights and sounds that reaches into your soul and reminds you why and how this other-worldly creature and his Spiders from Mars could conquer the world. It was never a war of the worlds. Planet Earth never stood a chance.
As if Bowie’s classic concert footage and television interviews weren’t enough, Morgan sprinkles in clips of classic movies and gleefully random film snippets designed to make the movie screen explode with sound and fury. It’s overkill, for sure, but it’s all for the purpose of cranking up the high-energy emotional rush of Bowie and his music.
Moonage Daydream is first and foremost an art film. That is evident in every frame. After that, it’s a glowing tribute film, and thirdly, it’s a loosely structured documentary about the life and times of David Bowie.
If you go to be entertained, you won’t be entirely disappointed. If you go to learn who David Bowie was, you might be a little let down. Not even Bowie himself seemed to know the answer to that question, as evidenced in the many interview clips that are presented.
He was an enigma, even to himself.
The failure of Moonage Daydream is the journey down the rabbit hole of David Bowie’s inner psyche. The more it tries to make sense of it all the more it gets lost in the process and the more it steers us away from what audiences are probably showing up to see, namely Bowie’s electrifying magic on stage and in his milestone music videos. It’s a shame, because IMAX was made for movies like this. It’s a bigger than life format for subjects that are bigger than life.
Despite the running time (2 hours 15 minutes) it’s amazing what Moonage Dream manages to miss.
One critical chapter would have been the recording of his album Young Americans, recorded at Sigma Sound Studios in Philadelphia in 1975, which included the chart-topping hit, Young Americans. It was one of the highlights of Bowie’s career as a recording artist.
Also missing was a quick look at Bowie’s acting career and his appearance in films such as The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976), The Hunger (1983), or Labyrinth (1986). Fleeting glimpses of these movie are scattered throughout Moonage Daydream, though they are never identified on screen nor discussed or even mentioned. More time is devoted to his appearance in the Broadway adaptation of The Elephant Man (1980).
While his time in Berlin is covered, there is no mention of his collaboration with Iggy Pop in the creation of one of his biggest MTV videos for the song China Girl.
As mentioned, Bowie was one of MTV’s biggest, brightest stars back in its heyday. The inclusion of some of those videos in IMAX would have been both fitting and spectacular.
Is Moonage Daydream worth seeing? If you’re a Bowie fan, the answer is a resounding yes, despite the flaws and oversights. Fans will spot and savor the famous flashes that are sprinkled into the movie as seasoning.
Less devoted fans will still enjoy the dazzling energy of David Bowie that still crackles and sparks all these years after his passing. He wrote and performed some timeless songs that have a life of their own.
Those songs and performances are, as they say, well worth the price of admission. They make up for all the philosophizing and soul searching. Bowie won’t be remembered as a philosopher. But he will forever be a Rock and Roll God who introduced himself to mankind as Ziggy Stardust.
Moonage Daydream is in theaters now.