Johnny Pomatto, who found the film transcendent, writes: “One could track down its fragments to watch them individually, but there’s something to the idea of mixing them all in a blender and letting the sensation of seeing everything at once tell Bowie’s whole biography simultaneously.”
When a large part of the work is exactly this—tracking down and going through the pieces that will eventually become this immersive experience—what is the day-to-day of that? Do you remember specific moments where you stumbled across something that gave you goosebumps and made you go, “Oh my God, that has to be in it” or “that’s the key to this”?
I think the one moment that was actually cemented and put into the film, which was a sheer act of randomness to a certain extent, was I had ordered a 4K transfer for the dailies [the raw, unedited footage from the music video shoot] for The Hearts Filthy Lesson. A lot of the videos we didn’t have any dailies for, so we had no idea what was going to be on the reels other than what the final product was. And even from there, one didn’t know how much post color work had been done—so what the original would look like compared to [music video director] Sam Bayer’s Hearts Filthy Lesson. I do love Sam’s video, which is why I ordered the material.
The lessons I’ve learned, with the Rolling Stones film but more importantly with Montage of Heck: some of the best scenes in the film were from music video outtakes, where you get the longer look, the longer gaze. The “Smells like Teen Spirit” scene in Montage of Heck I think is probably one of the most powerful scenes in the film and it’s just made from known media, but the outtakes of it, and then you’re seeing it through this different lens.
When footage arrived in the building, I would ask my assistant to set off a fire alarm basically to, whatever I was doing, to stop and alert me that there was a 4K scan that was in the lobby. When we got 4K scans, it was [makes exciting fire alarm sound]. Because going to IMAX, we wanted the highest quality material possible.
So we get the 4K scans in and usually they’re 90 minutes or something, so you can sit here in the dark and just be quiet [and watch the footage], or you can multitask. I had just been working on a collection of soundbites that had to deal with the creative process, and so I put all three of those on the Avid—not lining them up, just sort of throwing them on there to press play. And as Philip Glass music came on, there was a black stage and then light slowly faded up and David came out of a crouch and reached to the heavens in near-perfect harmony to the music. A beat later, he starts talking about the mystery of art.