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Review: Moonage Daydream

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Moonage Daydream is a fittingly atypical, whirlwind telling of the story of David Bowie. By contrast to the flashy yet often tacky studio biopics of Bowie’s contemporaries, Freddie Mercury, Elton John and Elvis, Moonage Daydream instead uses Bowie himself to narrate his life, rather than an actor. By doing this, Brett Morgan, the director, producer, writer and editor, allows David Bowie to tell you his story in his own words and more importantly through his songs, music videos, paintings, interviews and photographs. Overall, the synaesthesia of this colourful kaleidoscope exhibits Bowie in all his rock and roll glory.

In this documentary film that so creatively paints Bowie’s final, posthumous portrait, the viewer is submerged into the eccentric whirlpool of Bowie’s mind. The music as well as its accompanying videos serve as chronological transitions as you’re taken on a tour of his musical legacy interlaced with fascinating interview snippets. The substance of these interviews is what is most surprising; it is deeply philosophical. It presents Bowie as an intellectual thinker, shining a light on his philosophical side that only emboldens his lyrics and artistic opus. Bowie divulges his thoughts and commentary on life in a way that enlightens the audience to the man behind Aladdin Insane and Ziggy Stardust to an unprecedented degree. Whilst it touches on Bowie’s personal life growing up, it does not indulge in it as drama but rather as a way of informing the backdrop to his many identities and personas. One of its most thought-provoking topics is its discussion of Bowie’s older brother, Terry, and his struggle with paranoid schizophrenia. Bowie is sensitive in dealing with such a taboo topic in the 70s in a way that is humanising and enlightening, particularly regarding Bowie’s own concerns that his eccentricity potentially stemmed from the illness.

Ultimately, in composing this melange of the different facets of David Bowie, the eclectic multimedia approach the documentary takes is only fitting. It speaks to Bowie’s many talents, personas and the different lives he led. It is aesthetically beautiful and has a rock ‘n’ roll glam that is executed perfectly. Most importantly, however, it drives home his most important identity: the artist. This is often lost amid melodramatic biopics that prioritise a dramatic plot over the identity of the artist. Whilst these contemporaries and their biopic representations are often rendered as unrelatable caricatures, Moonage Daydream connects Bowie to the present. Ultimately, Brett Morgan respects that of course, no one can play Bowie, especially when Bowie himself was so often playing someone else. In Bowie playing Bowie, the film supplants so much of the past, its music and trends into the present seamlessly. Morgan captures Bowie as timeless through his artistic drive and musings on modern life, particularly that of isolation and artistic purpose. All in all, this absorbing documentary will leave you inspired even more than it will entertain you, which is perhaps the most appropriate way to tell the story of a true artist.

Image ‘David Bowie would have been 73 today. Japanese iconoclast Kansai Yamamoto created this costume for Bowie’s ‘73 Aladdin Sane tour’ by Ron Frazier is licensed under CC BY 2.0.