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'Moonage Daydream' Review: a dazzling odyssey of sound and vision

This review is accompanied by an interview featuring Bowie's collaborators and other special guests.

Credit: Universal Pictures

It seems crazy to say that there has never been an officially authorised documentary about David Bowie. That has now changed with ‘Moonage Daydream’: in just under two and a half hours, director Brett Morgen takes us on a riveting journey through his numerous identities and ideas, while also giving us an intimate look at the man behind it all.

Right from the opening scene, it’s clear this was not made to be a traditional biopic. As surreal images of celestial bodies fill the screen, Bowie’s own narration cuts through the silence, like a disembodied, otherworldly presence. The action jumps between never-before-seen concert footage and shots of an enrapt crowd, supplied by Bowie’s own estate - Morgen was given an unprecedented level of access to his archive material and it shines through in the depth of the film. Interspersed with these are snippets of Bowie’s interviews, including one particularly funny segment regarding his fashion sense and choice of shoes: “They’re shoe shoes, silly!” As someone known for his witticisms and often cryptic answers, the mystery of Bowie is nonetheless preserved, its frenetic editing forcing us to fill in the blanks with our imaginations.

Credit: Universal Pictures

Who was he really? That’s the question the film comes back to over and over, as it follows him through his life first as Ziggy Stardust, then Aladdin Sane, Halloween Jack and the Thin White Duke, each chapter showcasing the distinct visual style of its respective album and tour. In eye-popping technicolour, we follow Bowie as he matures from a young man new to commercial success to an artist confident in his own abilities. This is the film’s greatest strength: it fails as a comprehensive, paint-by-numbers documentary, in favour of keeping with the ambiguity Bowie was so known for. And what could be more true to life than that?

To get the most out of the experience, it’s worth seeing Moonage Daydream on the biggest, loudest screen possible, for its sheer visual splendour and sound design. Morgen enlisted Academy Award-winning sound mixer Paul Massey (famous for his work on 2018’s Bohemian Rhapsody) and Bowie’s own producer Tony Visconti to produce the music, creating an impeccably balanced soundscape of narration and remixed songs. On screen, scenes often blur together or overlap as time passes, with animation being introduced to illustrate particular narrative points. Bowie’s shift towards acting in the late 70s is reflected in the film’s use of clips of his most notable roles, such as him on stage as the Elephant Man, the titular ethereal alien in The Man Who Fell to Earth and a prisoner of war in Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence.

Credit: Universal Pictures

Unfortunately, the later years of his career are relatively glossed over: although it can be argued that he remained an influential figure for many, Morgen doesn’t devote much time to exploring these eras. With the somewhat repetitive editing (the same clips and animations are used multiple times), it’s hard not to wonder how much more comprehensive he could have been had he instead used that time to explore the circumstances leading up to the release of Blackstar, as a bittersweet epilogue. As an experimental collage of Bowie’s personas, the film is excellent: as an informational documentary, not so much. Audience members not yet swayed to his artistry likely won’t find themselves enamoured with the near-lack of structure.

It’s difficult to find fault elsewhere - after all, a man as enigmatic as Bowie deserves to have his mystery maintained. Every great musician has had a ‘great’ film to carry on their legacy, and this might just be his.

'Moonage Daydream' is out now in cinemas and IMAX

Edited by Saffron Brown Davis, Film & TV Editor


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