As everyone is aware by now David Bowie died on Monday and his music is rightfully being played over and over, not to mention discussed but his work in film has been mentioned but not fully explored.
Bowie, like many a pop/rock star wanted to act but unlike a lot of musicians that go into acting Bowie wasn’t a total failure. In fact, his C.V is peppered with some spectacular films so here’s a brief jaunt through the films of Bowie starting with the peerless The Man Who Fell To Earth.
A few years ago I made a list of my favourite science fiction films and this wasn’t on the list, not because it’s not one of my favourite SF films, but because it’s one of my favourite films ever made and the intention was to have it head up a similar list but I got distracted onto other things.
The Man Who Fell to Earth is simply to me one of the top five films ever made. It’s virtually flawless, and Bowie is astonishing as the alien that’s come to Earth in order to help save his planet. In lesser hands than Nicolas Roeg this could have been B-movie fare but both Roeg and the casting of Bowie raises this film into something more than another pessimistic bit of early 1970’s science fiction.
Roeg plays with time (something he does in many of his films) as Bowie’s race perceive time in a non-linear way that we humans do, not to mention he ages at a vastly different rate, something that only becomes clear when all around him start graying and putting on weight.
By the end though, Thomas Newton. the character played by Bowie is crushed by the people of planet Earth, He’s been mutilated by Earth scientists and his family, not to mention his planet, are long dead. All Newton has left to him is alcohol and thanks to owning lucrative patents he never needs to concern himself about money for what will be a very, very long life by Earth standards. It’s a sad, miserable end for a unique being on Earth acting only to preserve his race but is crushed by humanity. The parallels with Bowie are clear, obvious and played on in the film’s marketing especially.
The Man Who Fell to Earth is the finest film to ever star a musician in the starring role. It’s simply genius.
Bowie’s next film role was a small cameo in the bleak German film Christiane F.I’ll admit to having not seen the film in decades so my memories of it are faint but I remember being so depressed by it that I didn’t want to rush to see it again. There is however a scene of Bowie performing Station to Station that’s a brilliant little scene.
Next up is something I’ve not seen mentioned in one obituary of Bowie is his role in the BBC adaptation of Bertolt Brecht’s Baal. Bowie recorded the songs from the play for an EP which managed to chart in the UK’s Top 40.
As for the play, again, I’ve not seen it in decades but I do remember the reaction it had on me as a young lad that worshiped Bowie seeing him play this seedy little creature called Baal. The entire play is up on YouTube. I’ve watched it again last night and it really is a brilliant bit of work, not to mention Bowie is a revelation in it.
In the early 1980’s Bowie did a lot of work outwith music. The Snowman was something I wrote about only a couple of weeks ago, but The Hunger is a stylish horror film directed by Tony Scott that’s worth a look and is better than the trailer suggests.
A lot has been said of his role in Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence….
Not to mention Labyrinth obviously…
However a few things have been missed. Jazzin’ For Blue Jean is a short film directed by Julien Temple for a song from Bowie’s pretty poor album, Tonight. It’s a great 20 minute short that shows off Bowie’s talent for comedy not to mention self-depreciation.
Then there’s Julien Temple’s Absolute Beginners….
It’s difficult to actually see Absolute Beginners because it has at this point in time in the UK, no commercial DVD/Blu Ray release though you can get it in the US, which is a crying shame as it’s a brilliant failed experiment in British film-making which seems to have been brushed under the carpet as a major embarrassment because of how much it died at the box office rather than the content of the film.
After this he did mainly character roles or cameos but his Pontious Pilate in Scorcese’s The Last Temptation of Christ, his Andy Warhol in Basquiat, his turn as Nikola Tesla in The Prestige and his self-referential cameo in Zoolander are all worth catching. It is however his part in David Lynch’s vastly underrated Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me that closes this appreciation off…
So yet again it’s a thanks to David Bowie…..
EDITED TO ADD:
It’s been a crap start to 2016 as I write this the news of Alan Rickman’s death joins that of Bowie, Angus Scrimm and Lemmy over the last few week making it a grim time for people that grew up appreciating these people’s work. It seems that the best, unique talents are leaving us to be replaced by nothing like them because you can’t replace the best and these people certainly were the best in what they did. Just please, let the good ones that still live on stay with us a wee bit longer….