Moonage Daydream

Moonage Daydream ★★½

97/200

Someday someone will make a movie about David Bowie that doesn’t obfuscate his actual achievements and rely on very literal language of myth but uhh today’s not that day. Stupefyingly unimaginative, this uses footage from movies starring Bowie (footage with one set of specific intentions) and footage of movies Bowie probably watched (with a completely different set of intentions at best tangentially related to what Bowie got out of them, at worst horrifically literal interpretations of what Bowie used them for - the flip side of Todd Haynes’ use of the vanguard of American avant-garde in Velvet Underground, which was about creating a bedrock of experimental grammar into which the Velvets projected themselves) and every half hour something Morgen and his crew created from scratch for about 15 seconds. Taking other people’s work, throwing Bowie’s interview voiceover (most of which was given in drugged up fugues or straight faced but made up of deliberately coy non-answers until about the 2/3 mark) over it, going in a nonsensically sorta-kinda chronological order, and never once diving into anything specific about his music… why? Why do this? Money, I guess, but I thought Morgen was less crass than this. The good Bowie movies are the ones where he’s a character actor adding texture through the fact that he was a publicly unknowable figure. When he strides into Into the Night or Fire Walk With Me, he brings his persona with him. He can’t help it. Even more than Mick or John, he was a publicly flamboyant chameleon, meant to be whatever the moment needed. When you lay it all out and say “yes all of this was by some master design, every moment and song a deliberate provocation,” you’re saying what Bowie himself said (with his music) his whole career but you’re also ascribing order to a journey that was, by all accounts, that of a genius stumbling from one moment to the next and making the most of it, alienating the people closest to him as he went (to say nothing of seriously damaging some people), and nearly dying in the process until finally he found a more safe version of himself and explored that and became healthy and sane. By completely succumbing to the idea that Bowie the rock star and Bowie the person were one and the same, you’re missing the point of art, you’re turning in other people’s homework (like Haynes himself, who did this better in Velvet Goldmine, which I don’t really like, either) as your own and coming to zero new conclusions. I simply do not understand the point of this movie. If Bowie had wanted to make a Pink Floyd The Wall style movie about himself he would have done so. Making it for him and presenting it as a “documentary” “written by” someone else is something duller than plagiarism. Not a word about the instruments he used, the chords he chose, his children, his work with Iggy Pop, Lou Reed, Lennon, nothing at all. And if the idea was “well we don’t have time for them we’re spending all of it with Bowie…” well where the hell is he? All I see are mute images of a performer. We don’t learn anything. And if you haven’t made the movie for Bowie fans (who get more screen time than Mike Garson) then who is it for? I’ve read the books, I’ve heard the b-sides, I’ve watched the concerts, and if I hadn’t? I’d need to. There’s just nothing here I couldn’t have guessed or that I couldn’t watch on YouTube. It’s good that they cleaned some of it up and improved the mix… I just wish they’d stopped there.

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