‘Fame, makes a man take things over/ Fame, lets him loose, hard to swallow’
I first saw this documentary two years ago, after being one of the unlucky thousands to not get tickets, as it felt like my only chance to actually see the exhibit. I remember being adequately placated by watching it (having ordered the exhibition book too) that I’d at least had a taste of what the exhibit had been like. Two years, and the death of an icon later, leads watching this to be a far more melancholy experience. The documentary is described as being a celebration of his life but feels far too stifling and pretentious to be that. Though the still-touring exhibition unquestionably reflects the life and legend of a musical genius, this documentary doesn’t quite satisfy.
‘Will you stay in our lovers’ story/ If you stay you won’t be sorry’
That’s not to say the documentary is without merit. It provides access to truly thrilling documents that only a trip to the Museo d’Arte Moderna di Bologna (MAMbo), Bologna, Italy, from 14 July – 13 November 2016 would provide. There are photos from the very beginning – of baby Bowie! – early drawings and sketches, newsreel footage of him founding the ‘Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Long-Haired Men’ and a letter confirming his name change from David Jones to David Bowie (BOH-ee not BOW-ee). Then the next level of fandom for musos would be his ownership of a pre-release print of ‘The Velvet Underground & Nico’ from 1967, an early indicator of how the man could spot a zeitgeist from the other side of the Atlantic before it had even departed.
‘Ground Control to Major Tom/ Your circuit’s dead, there’s something wrong.’
Unfortunately the documentary doesn’t quite capture this joyous spirit, instead favouring the approach of eloquently gushing interviewees as opposed to those who can offer real insight. Though the film provides amazing nuggets it just doesn’t hit enough high notes. This may also be down to the format it takes – a strange hybrid of conventional documentary and guided tour of a gallery exhibit. Just as one section gets interesting it is cut short, all too frustratingly, by an interview or soundbite from one of the curates who aren’t particularly good presenters. Therefore a great deal of patience is required and even Bowie aficionados (myself included) may find themselves tested – especially when a read of a biography or a watch of the superior ‘David Bowie: Five Years’ would provide more rewarding.
‘One day, though it might as well be someday/you and I will rise up all the way.’
David Bowie was a true genius who constantly crossed the barriers from music into art and back again; a man who had an innate sense of sound and infinite vision. Having to use the past tense to describe him is heart-wrenching. This is not the rockumentary to immortalise his legacy, it’s a show and tell of his relics. Although intermittently fascinating it fails to capture and retain just who Bowie was. It attempts to contemplate and pontificate, ending up as more of a slog than a joyous exploration of one of Britain’s greatest artistes. Although you do not get to see behind the curtain it is a chance to have a peek at the behind-the-scenes of an elaborate artistic mastermind.
Dir: Hamish Hamilton
Prd: Katy Mullan
David Bowie is… is re-released in cinemas for one night only on the 14th July