Review: Moonage Daydream

The curious thing about Brett Morgen’s massive documentary about David Bowie is the way he juxtaposes the self-regarding artistic magnificence of the Bowie brand with the effect it had on his audience. By no means a biography of the definitive rock star, Moonage Daydream attempts a self-examination of Bowie’s purposes and results using his own statements and examples of his art, and not just in the musical sense. Opening with a quote by Nietzche about what the death of God means, the film proceeds through a somewhat chronological survey of Bowie’s attitudes as they changed over time, and the only thing that really remained unchanged was his fans’ adoration, which comes across as Beatlemania for the more discerning teenager. Morgen, who was given unlimited access to the artist’s own vaults by his estate, revels in scenes of pubescent girls weeping at Bowie’s concerts and tough boys in primary hues and glitter making the usual rough noises about rawk-and-roll. Take away the context and you might think you’re watching a movie about the Bay City Rollers—or AC/DC.

But Morgen isn’t interested in this contrast beyond its novelty. He wants to convey the greatness of the man using the largest canvas he can pay for, and the IMAX presentation is not just a commercial gambit. The format is required to deliver the desired enormity of Bowie’s visual ideas, as well as the fidelity of sound as it’s matched with larger-than-life concert performances—some never made available before—that are truly impressive. Morgen has allowed himself all the time in the world, and the presentation of full songs, like the title cut and a particularly mind-bending version of “Heroes,” anchor the movie in a milieu that makes his case for Bowie being the extraterrestrial he always claimed to be. If you want to know about Angie’s role in his initial success or the cocaine addiction that dominated his life after he moved to the U.S., you’ll be disappointed. Most of the biographical stuff is only included to explain one or another philosophical juncture in his artistic development, and while sometimes these explanations are thrilling, as they are with regard to his Berlin phase, other times they feel gratuitous, as if Morgen found a particularly fascinating quote but was unable to convey to the screen the immediate impact it made on him. If the movie drags at the end it’s only because by the new century Bowie had mostly exhausted himself musically and was trying to pass himself off more resolutely as the ultimate millennial renaissance man. I’m not saying he wasn’t, but only that Morgen seems to be fishing for a way to convince us that he was. 

What Morgen mainly gets right is an overriding tone that captures Bowie’s talent for adapting to whatever trend he saw as being relevant to his purposes, using news clips, scenes from movies, original sci-fi animation, and a restless editing style that mimics Bowie’s thought processes. Obviously, prior knowledge of Bowie’s art will help the viewer better appreciate Morgen’s own achievement, but the movie’s psychedelic style has its own special universal appeal. Take drugs if you’ve got ’em. 

Opens March 24 in Tokyo at Toho Cinemas Nihonbashi (050-6868-5060), Toho Cinemas Hibiya (050-6868-5068), Toho Cinemas Chanter Hibiya (050-6868-5001), Toho Cinemas Shinjuku (050-6868-5063), Shibuya Cine Quinto (03-3477-5905), Shibya Parco White Cine Quinto (03-6712-7225), Toho Cinemas Roppongi Hills (050-6868-5024).

Moonage Daydream home page in Japanese

photo (c) 2022 Starman Productions, LLC

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