Glimpses Behind Bowie’s Genius Are Tantalising. Probably Better Seen In Person, Though.
As a means to introduce exhibition-goers to the many faces the incomparable David Bowie has worn over the years, the tagline ‘David Bowie Is…’ works very well, encouraging you to offer your own insight into the living legend that has gone by the monikers of Ziggy Stardust and the Thin White Duke, among several others. Not to mention wearing the world’s most unfeasible codpiece while trying to seduce a young Jennifer Connelly in Labyrinth, thereby alluring countless 80s teens who had missed out on the first phalanx of his sexually liberating assault on the planet.
David Bowie Is, co-directed by Hamish Hamilton, of multiple Oscar ceremonies and Super Bowl halftime show fame, and Katy Mullan, producer of the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Shows, releases in the same week as Bowie teases us with his latest hit-in-the-making, ‘Tis a Pity She Was a Whore,’ the B-side to new single ‘Sue (Or in a Season of Crime).’ The timing only serves to heighten Australian audiences’ hunger for the blockbusting exhibition, which is winding its way from London’s V&A to Melbourne’s ACMI early next year.
It’s a little odd that this film isn’t specifically tied to the exhibition itself, and is getting a select national release beyond ACMI itself. Part of the reason, one assumes, is that it is, in fact, one massive advertising campaign to stir up already fevered anticipation levels.
The doco cum advertising pitch offers many fascinating glimpses into Bowie’s life, particularly rich when revealing his childhood, from cherub-like early pics to the more recognisably angular aesthetic as a teen kicking about in various bands, designing costumed identities. There are also magic moments to be had with the hand-written lyrics of his most iconic songs, complete with tantalising corrections that show what might have been.
Despite this treasure trove of goodies, including the knowledge that Diamond Dogs started life as a screenplay for a dystopian film, it all starts to get a bit odd as curators Vicky Broackes and Geoffrey do their best to engage the audience, striking poses but mostly coming across as a tad too fusty. Like an overgrown 100-minute advert for an event that almost anyone forking out the cash to see this flick will end up seeing anyway, in this regard it’s almost a spoiler.
There are cute enough moments with obsessive fans relaying what Bowie means to them, but the distinct lack of inner-circle collaborators is telling, beyond a fascinating chat with Japanese fashion designer Kansai Yamamoto, who crafted that seminal Top of the Pops young mind-melting Ziggy jumpsuit. Jarvis Cocker seems a little too smug in placing himself on a similar level as the great man, and a few guests are tangential at best. Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of David Bowie Is that he’s completely missing, beyond archival footage.
Though there’s some merit to the piece, it probably makes more sense to wait until the actual exhibition reaches our shores rather than fork out for this too – save the money and spend it in the Bowie gift shop instead.
Stephen A Russell