May 12, 2023 | ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT | By Sophia Lisco
Like many people in the young-adult age range today, I was raised on my dad’s music. This unfortunately means that I harbor a deep admiration for bands that are long past their prime. There have been many days, nights, and car rides where I’ve wanted nothing more than to be a teenager in the 1970s, following my favorite bands à la Penny Lane from “Almost Famous.”
My childhood carpool rides and backyard barbeques were set to some of my father’s favorites: Talking Heads, The Rolling Stones, The Who, maybe a little Led Zeppelin, but never The Beatles. However, the crème-de-la-crème, my dad’s favorite, was and still is the Starman himself, David Bowie.
I’ve longed for what must have been the ethereal experience of seeing Ziggy Stardust in concert. I know now that the closest I’ll probably ever get is watching “Moonage Daydream,” which was just released on HBO Max.
When I sat down to watch Brett Morgen’s newest film, I was expecting a well-made documentary about the life of David Bowie. I was looking forward to walking away with a little more knowledge and the ability to hold an informed conversation about music with my father.
I was not expecting the two hours of visceral, psychedelic cinema that I ended up experiencing.
The film loosely traces the arc of Bowie’s career, from his earlier Ziggy Stardust, “Starman” years through his more mainstream “Let’s Dance” era, utilizing footage and music from his entire discography and filmography.
“Moonage Daydream” feels experimental in nature. The film weaves together elements of pop culture, concert videos, interview clips, and footage from Bowie’s personal archive to create a subliminal, celestial viewing experience.
Rather than assembling statements and interviews from those around Bowie, as is common in music documentaries, Morgen chose to let Bowie speak for himself. The majority of “dialogue” in the film is compiled from interviews and statements by Bowie himself, which showcases many of his profound, quotable aphorisms.
“It’s what you do in life that’s important, not how much time you have or what you’d wish you’d done,” said Bowie in a clip used in the film.
Bowie’s philosophy of existence evolved throughout his life, and this is reflected in the feel of the film. The eclectic, otherworldly feel of the Ziggy Stardust years, when Bowie adopted an alien alter-ego, is amplified through the bright, surreal footage of Bowie and his surroundings. As he begins to recognize the existence of a tomorrow as separate from the present, the film adjusts slightly in tone and intensity, mirroring his new outlook.
Bowie’s early life is only hinted at through brief anecdotes, something that deviates drastically from the typical movie doc that might devote 20 minutes to unpacking an artist’s family life. The majority of the film centers around what I’ll call “the Bowie experience,” because there really isn’t another way to describe it. The soundtrack spans Bowie’s entire discography, which functions alongside other pieces of his art, including his acrylic paintings, to create a feeling, an aura, of psychedelic, rock and roll stardust.
The whole picture is absolutely riddled with references, both to Bowie’s work and to the stuff that inspired it. Morgen, who wrote, edited, and produced the film in addition to directing it, struggled with the script for months before deciding on a through line: transience. Everything in the film and in Bowie’s world is fleeting, and the film feels simultaneously untethered and cohesive. A viewer could press play at any point and launch themselves into the sensations of the film, but the full experience is reserved for those who sit through the entire thing.
David Bowie was a shapeshifting, ambiguous, funkadelic rock icon, which is why “Moonage Daydream”works. Why should a film attempt to force his career into a narrative box when he refused to be categorized himself?
Viewers hoping to learn about the life and legacy of David Bowie might want to watch something different, however enjoyers of all that is extravagant, bizarre, and otherworldly should give it a shot. “Moonage Daydream”isn’t just a film, it’s a feeling – and David Bowie wasn’t just a rock star, he was a legend.
“Moonage Daydream”is available to stream now.