‘Moonage Daydream’ is the most spellbinding David Bowie documentary to date
Dylan Jones on why Brett Morgen’s new three-hour tour de force is a thing of Bowie-soaked beauty
Friday 16 September 2022 By Dylan Jones
David Bowie always knew you needed to turn left before you went right, always understood that you needed to slip out of your comfort zone before you could be truly creative. Of course, he didn’t always adhere to this – 1987’s appalling Never Let Me Down is proof of this, in case any were required – but in his heart he knew it was true. Labyrinth won’t be remembered as a forerunner of Lord Of The Rings, and The Linguini Incident isn’t ever going to be remembered with much fondness, but these were stumbles – Bowie knew you had to push the envelope in order to send it.
Thankfully, the Bowie estate appears to believe this, too. Brett Morgen’s extraordinary three-hour theatrical documentary, Moonage Daydream, is released next week; it is the first posthumous film to be authorised by the estate, and it’s something of a masterpiece. Taking footage from Bowie’s personal archives, existing documentaries and exclusive live concert footage, it’s a wildly impressionistic trawl through his career, and could not be more different from a Bohemian Rhapsody or a Rocket Man. The most innovative trick in the movie is the way that Bowie’s voiceover – culled from dozens of interviews – feels almost completely seamless. It’s as though he’s narrating his own life, and it will leave you spellbound.
Moonage Daydream (which takes its name from the famous Ziggy Stardust song) is written, directed, produced and edited by Morgen, a feat that no doubt contributed to the heart attack he had a few years ago. That’s a lot of work – not just to almost single-handedly make such an original film, but also to create something so different from the existing Bowie documentaries. I saw it last week at the premiere in the IMAX cinema in London’s Waterloo, and, like everyone else there – Noel Gallagher, Courtney Love, Bobby Gillespie, Gaz Coombes, Daphne Guinness, long-time Bowie confidante Alan Edwards and original Spiders from Mars drummer Woody Woodmansey – I knew it was something special.
I was sitting with Geoff MacCormack, one of Bowie’s oldest friends – he performed as Warren Peace on many of the singer’s seminal tours – and afterwards he was visibly moved by the experience. ‘There’s a lot to take in,’ he said. ‘A hell of a lot.’ There were many genuine Bowie aficionados in the audience, including filmmakers Jan Younghusband and Malcolm Gerrie – and they all knew they had seen something special. Long, but special.
Let’s hope it stays that way, and that the Bowie estate keeps turning left and not right. Earlier in the year, and after months of negotiations, it sold the singer’s formidable publishing catalogue to Warner Chappell Music for more than £250m. The catalogue spans six decades and includes such famous songs as ‘Heroes’, ‘Let’s Dance’ and ‘Rebel Rebel’, as well as all the material he recorded when he was a children’s entertainer, and the rather lacklustre stuff he made with Tin Machine (which Bowie himself often referred to as Tin Opener). What the company decides to do with the back catalogue will soon be made apparent as it’s already said it wants to amp up the commercial exploitation of the work. After all, it wouldn’t have spent £250m to leave it all in a vault. This will no doubt include more obvious commercial tie-ins, a greater number of authorised advertisements, computer games, cover versions and the like.
So, we shall see. What we do know is that the influence of Bowie is even greater now than it was when he was alive. Consequently, there are even more Bowie-related projects in the works. The estate is still discussing the possibilities of a biopic, the genius filmmaker Francis Whately is planning a fourth film in his ‘Five Years’ series, and next year there will be various festivals devoted to him. Plus, there are rumours of more thematic compilations, live concert soundtracks, and maybe even a stage musical. ‘There is more affection for Bowie now than at any point in the past,’ says Alan Edwards, who still looks after the singer’s PR. ‘His legacy is stronger than ever, as is his influence. People are gradually realising he was the most influential artist of all time.’
As ever, the most important thing about Bowie is his music. Sitting in the dark last week, watching Moonage Daydream and immersing myself in his life, it was a joy to get lost in that music once more, to sink into the warm bath of transgression that only seems to get better with age.
I went to the screening with an old friend who used to party with Bowie on Mustique, and who spent most Christmases and New Years with him when he lived on the island – he was blown away by the music, a lot of which had been expertly remixed. ‘I’ve never heard some of this stuff before and I can’t believe how good it is,’ he said. ‘I’m in heaven.’
‘I don’t really care about my legacy, not in the normal, expected way,’ Bowie once told me, as we drank tea in London’s Halkin Hotel, back in the Noughties. ‘I just hope I’ve managed to make a difference. I’ve led a tremendous life, and enjoyed it all. I hope it shows.’
Dylan Jones is the author of David Bowie: A Life, generally acknowledged as the definitive Bowie biography