Cineworld IMAX, Edinburgh
Anyone expecting a straightforward biography of the late David Bowie is in for a surprise. Brett Morgan’s art film (I hesitate to use the word ‘documentary’) is as experimental as anything I’ve seen in a very long while, a pulsing kaleidoscopic collection of vivid images and found footage, propelled by some of the most memorable rock songs ever committed to acetate.
In its peculiar way, it’s as elusive and enigmatic as its subject.
I was twenty when I first heard The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars, already a little too old to be completely captivated by his androgynous alter ego, but it’s here that the film opens – with Bowie at the height of his fame, pursued everywhere by adoring fans, working-class kids doing their level best (and mostly failing) to appropriate his ‘look’. We learn only a little about his earliest years and there’s no mention of the infamous Angie, to whom he was married for a tumultuous decade. Morgan prefers to let the music do the talking, while the screen explodes with a myriad visual references: the films; the books; the paintings; the actors; the locations that influenced Bowie, that made him what he became – a rock chameleon, inhabiting a whole series of different personae, constantly reinventing ways to take an audience by surprise.
Viewed on the IMAX screen, the result is immersive, hypnotic, even overwhelming at times and, on the few occasions when Bowie is allowed to deliver an entire song, I’m thrilled by how contemporary it sounds. Of course his gender-fluidity was way ahead of the curve, but so too was the music, visiting places where few others dared to tread. And his presence here seems predominantly to be that of the wanderer, always on the move, visiting an endless list of new locations, always on the lookout for what can be assimilated into his ‘new’ sound. It’s interesting to note that it’s only when he finds happiness (through his marriage to Iman) that his music finally begins to lose its dangerous edge.
Some will find this too much of an assault on the senses, but for my money it serves as a fitting – and long overdue – tribute to one of the most remarkable performers in music history. And those who choose to come along simply to hear his best songs performed in Dolby stereo won’t be disappointed.