Top of the World: A Tribute To David Bowie Through His Films

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January 8th week belongs to David Bowie and his also known as Bowiemas among his fans. Indeed, David was born on January 8th, 1947 and left us two days after his 69th birthday on January 10, 2016, which left many of his admirers in a state of infinite sadness.

As I haven’t written on my blog for a very long time, I thought I would pay tribute to the starman by discussing his films, the ones I’ve seen anyway. I more precisely decided to present you my personal ranking of his films, from my least favourite one to my most favourite one.

Notice that I put them in two separate categories: the fiction films and the documentaries/concert films

As always, I’ll ask you to respect my choices. I’m not claiming that the #1 on this list is the best film, but only that it is my personal favourite so it’s very subjective.

If you wonder why a certain film isn’t on the list, the only reason is that I haven’t seen it yet. Of course, I’m open to recommendations!

So, here we go!

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Fiction films

7- Absolute Beginners (Julien Temple, 1986)

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Absolute Beginners is not a great film, far from it. The reason why I put it in the last place is that it disappointed me for several reasons. It’s a musical and there are some fine songs, but I thought it was a bit too over the top, and not in a good way. I like extravagant films, but in this particular case, it wasn’t really going anywhere, which isn’t really a good thing. Some of the actors also tend to over-act, which didn’t add any sobriety to the film either. I was also disappointed by the fact that David Bowie’s role is, as a matter of fact, a very small one! Its moment of glory lasts only a few minutes and it is perhaps the best part of the film. Anyway, as he was the third actor to be credited I expected to see a bit more of him. Luckily, Absolute Beginners also has some good sides: David Bowie singing “That’s Motivation”, the scene at the beginning of the film when the main character Colin (Eddie O’Connell) takes photos of his friends in the street in a very dynamic way, the beautiful theme song written and performed by Bowie (I already loved it before seeing the film), the vintage aesthetic and more. So, as you can see, I didn’t hate the film, but it lacks consistency and, at the end, I had completely lost the focus.

6- Basquiat (Julian Schnabel, 1996)

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This is the first David Bowie film I ever saw and I must admit I don’t remember much of it, but I put it in the 6th place as I know it was a better film than Absolute Beginners. Actually, I saw it in my art history class in CEGEP when we were talking about Jean-Michel Basquiat. David Bowie in the role of Andy Warhol was a pretty top-notch casting choice. David himself even wrote a song years before named Andy Warhol (part of his album Hunky Dory) and it’s a personal favourite!  The cast also includes David’s great friend Gary Oldman and another personal favourite actor of mine: Dennis Hopper. Anyway, I think I would have to see the film again to give you a full appreciation. I wasn’t even a fan of David Bowie at the time like I am today! So, of course, my vision of things will probably ch-ch-ch-change.

5- The Hunger (Tony Scott, 1983)

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This one is pretty fresh in my memory as I watched it yesterday! I must admit, I took time to see it as vampire movies aren’t really my thing…anymore. But in a logical order of things, this had to be the next one. The good thing about it is that it is not a typical vampire movie and, as a matter of fact, the word “vampire” is never used by the characters. What I liked the most about the film was its visual aesthetic, which was very beautiful and poetic. Narratively, it was ok, a bit weird, but my attention was kept until the end. Without revealing any spoiler, I must admit I didn’t really like the development of David Bowie’s character which is… a big part of the story. Oops! The Hunger starts in force with an unforgettable opening scene and also ends in a strong way. Finally, I appreciated the cast including Bowie, Susan Sarandon, and Catherine Deneuve. This one looks so beautiful and she made me think sooo much of Grace Kelly! The Hunger is not your typical gory vampire film and it’s, as a matter of fact, a very sexy film, but maybe not for everybody!

4- The Man Who Fell To Earth (Nicolas Roeg, 1976)

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This is maybe THE David Bowie fiction film. I mean, can you think of a better role for him than the one of an extraterrestrial. Many also claim that this was his best performance and I’ll tend to agree. David Bowie’s presence on screen is always appreciated, especially in a leading role. The film itself wasn’t my favourite one and the main reason is that I found it a bit hard to follow and I am not that much a fan of science-fiction (but a few exceptions). At one point I wasn’t really sure what was going on anymore. But I recognize its quality and importance both in film history and David’s career. It’s a good think Criterion included in its collection. The Man Who Fell To Earth certainly was David Bowie’s most unforgettable role and he had the chance to play a very interesting character. The ending is very sad and sort of makes you say “well, that’s it?…”

3- Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence (Nagisa Oshima, 1983)

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Another film restored by Criterion. I found this one very interesting and David Bowie gives us a fair performance. I would call it a film of quality. As I read on the internet, this is indeed one of the rare POW films where the prisoners don’t attempt to escape the camp (if you compare it with films like Stalag 17, The Great Escape or La Grand Illusion). So, for that reason, it remains one of a kind. Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence can be a bit slow at some point, but it remains a beautiful one. The music composed by Ryuichi Sakamoto (who also plays in the film) is one of the strong elements of the film as well as some visually poignant scenes, and David Bowie’s well-calculated performance. I also have to say I rather enjoyed the very last scene. It’s sad, but also very touching and reveals us the kinder side of one of the characters.  The only thing that truly annoyed me when I watched it is the fact that the sound was sometimes not perfectly synchronised with the image, but that’s not David’s fault!

2- Labyrinth (Jim Henson, 1986)

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Just like The Hunger, it took me time to see this Labyrinth as I was not sure it would be my type of film. But, I knew it was an essential David Bowie film and, as you can see, I quite enjoyed it as I put it in the second place! Visually, it’s a bit dated and grotesque, but it remains a great entertainment and Jareth the Goldin King is a very interesting character and David gives it the right essence. The various sources of inspiration for this film also make it a worthy one. Finally, from Underground to Within You, I absolutely loved the score. You don’t often find such groove in fantasy movies!

1- The Linguini Incident (Richard Shepard, 1991)

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No, I’m not saying that The Linguini Incident is a better movie than The Man Who Fell To Earth or Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence, but it is the one I personally enjoyed the most. It’s not exactly an excellent film, it’s more a typical guilty pleasure but it’s such fun! I really liked the characters, a lot happens so you don’t get bored, and David Bowie is just there and it’s fantastic you know! Notice a cameo by top model Iman, David Bowie’s second wife. Oh and Vivian’s bras! Oh. my. God. Hilarious!

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David Bowie documentaries/concert films

5- Cracked Actor (Alan Yentob, 1975)

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Cracked Actor is a very interesting film, and surely an essential one for curious people. However, David wasn’t really himself at the time due to his addiction to cocaine and he himself confirmed it in interviews years after. So, for that reason, I didn’t fully appreciate what I was watching. However, I found it worthy as it reveals us a bit of David’s creative process and shows us some excerpt of the Diamond Dogs Tour which unfortunately wasn’t released as a concert film.

4- Bowie in Berlin : ein Dokumentarfilm 1976-1979

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A film about his Berlin trilogy (Low, Heroes and Lodger, but also a bit of Station To Station as an introduction and Outside as a conclusion), Bowie in Berlin is an informative document and the interpretation of his albums made by the various commentators is an interesting one as it gives place to reflection. What I noticed the most about it is that his Berlin trilogy albums were a work of quality, but not necessarily his most mainstream music and, therefore, not accessible to everybody. The form of the documentary itself is however not the most “entertaining” one as it is most of the time static images of people speaking, and you don’t really have any archive images of David performing these songs or interviews with people who really worked on these albums such as a David himself, Brian Eno or Tony Visconti. It’s very sober, but it remains informative and interesting.

3- Serious Moonlight (David Mallet, 1984)

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Seeing David perform on stage is always a great enjoyment, especially for someone like me who never had the chance to see him live. Ok, I must admit his platinum blonde haircut is not my favourite look, but except for that, it was a great show! It also allowed me to discover some of his musicians such as the amazing Earl Slick and Carlos Alomar. However, I’m disappointed that some of the songs such as Modern Love weren’t included in the film! The form of the film with interruptions between each song is a bit weird at some point and sort of breaks its continuity which can be a bit annoying.

2- A Reality Tour (Marcus Viner, 2004)

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David gives us a strong show here and really seem to enjoy himself. I felt he was more generous to his audience in this one than he was with the Serious Moonlight Tour, explaining the 2nd position on my list. This concert also made me discover some songs of his “newer” albums that I hadn’t really listened before. Gail Ann Dorsey is such an amazing bassist and her duo with David on Under Pressure is maybe one of the best things about the show. But it’s sad now to think that none of the original singers are here anymore to perform it. Sadly, that was David Bowie’s last tour, but what a tour!

1- Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars (D.A. Pennebaker, 1973)

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This has to be my absolute favourite David Bowie’s film, fiction and documentary confused. Ziggy Stardust really is THE thing that made me want to know all about Bowie and buy all his albums. It’s really what made me a fan of him. When I first watched it, I was so spellbound by that man, by Ziggy. It’s simple, I had the feeling God was in front of my eyes and David Bowie is the only god I believe in. Ziggy Stardust is more than just a concert, it’s a whole performance and something of high importance in David’s career. We also have to praise all these amazing costumes!

So, that’s it! I know I still have a lot to see, including that Last Five Years documentary, but I’m working on it. Any recommendations are welcomed. I hesitated on posting this article tomorrow to give me the chance to see one more film, but I thought today was a more suitable time to publish it.

Even if David Bowie’s singing career was more important than his on-screen one, he was made to act in films and was a much better actor than we suspect. He also was the actor of his life and constantly re-invented himself in various characters with highly developed personalities such as the immortal Ziggy Stardust or the dangerously fascinating Thin White Duke.

RIP David Bowie. We all love you and miss you.

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Dreaming in Hitchcock Movies

“Dream dream, filling up an idle hour
Fade away, radiate”
– Debbie Harry, Dreaming


I’m one of those persons who are quite fascinated by dreams. From the most ordinary ones to the most extraordinary ones,  I saw them in all their colours. When I can remember my dreams, I write them in a little notebook to make sure I don’t forget them later. Actually, this is also a way to stimulate my subconscious and the more I work on them, the more I can remember them. I sometimes read my dream notebook and I have some fun reading stuff I didn’t remember.

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Dreams inspire art; paintings, songs, and, of course, cinema. So I thought, why not discussing the dreaming world in movies. I cannot talk about ALL the movies with dreams. So, why not focusing on the dreaming world in Hitchcock’s films?!

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Spellbound (1945)

“Good night and sweet dreams… which we’ll analyze at breakfast.” – Dr. Alex Brulov (Michael Chekhov), Spellbound

When one thinks of dreams in classic films, I’m pretty sure the first scene that comes to his or her mind is the one created by Salvador Dalí for Spellbound. Well, when Dali, the master of surrealism, accepts to direct a dream scene, you know it’s going to be a winning result. Dali’s painting themselves seem to be inspired by dreams or, at least by something that mysteriously poped-up of his mind for whatever reasons. I must admit, I didn’t do any dreams where the objects were weird and misshapen like in Dalí’s paintings, but the importance here is the symbolism of this dream.

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In the 40s, psychoanalyse was a subject that was very “en vogue”. With Spellbound, Hitchcock had for desired to direct the first movie on the subject. Like he explained to François Truffaut, he consulted famous psychoanalyst during the making of his film. The Master of Suspense also explained that he had for break the tradition of blurry and confused dreams that we usually see in movies. That’s why he wanted to work with Dalí. This one would create a visually very clear dream with clear and acute traits.

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So, in a movie about psychoanalyze, dreams are of a high importance. If I’m not mistaken, Dali’s sequence originally laste around 20 minutes, but it was cut to only a few. Not to mention that some of Dalí’s ideas were a bit difficult to shot as Hitchcock explained to Truffaut.  In a way, there’s something interesting about that. Have you ever heard that, even if your dreams sometimes seem to last forever, they only last a minute or a few seconds? In Spellbound, JB (Gregory Peck)’s dream is of a central importance since it helps Constance Peterson (Ingrid Bergman) and Professor Brulov (Michael Chekhov) to understand him and to help him regain his memory. It is said that dreams all have a meaning. Well, Spellbound‘s dream sequence is the perfect example of that.

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I feel that, in classic films, you had some of the most weirdly illustrated dreams. Of course, we all remember Spellbound’s dream for these curtains with painted eyes that are cut by a man with a giant pair of scissors. This is maybe the most iconic part of the sequence. Objects also have weird forms and proportions. For example, one can think of this crooked wheel or this giant table where a game of card is being interrupted by a man without a face. My personal favourite part of the dream is when Gregory Peck is running down a slope and followed by a pair of big wings (we only see their shadows). There’s something very beautiful in this shot that fits perfectly the dreaming world. Of course, we learn later in the film what is the meaning of all this.

 

Vertigo (1958)

“Only one is a wanderer; two together are always going somewhere. ” – Madeleine (Kim Novak), Vertigo

The scene designed by Dalí isn’t the only memorable dream sequence from an Hitchcock’s film. In 1958, Scottie Ferguson (James Stewart)’s nightmare had something truly terrifying. The mix between Bernard Herrmann’s score and the flashy colours create a haunting moment. Interestingly, Vertigo was the first film to use computer graphics, these being designed by Saul Bass. Those weren’t only used in the opening titles but also in the nightmare scene. The script doesn’t try to reveal the “meaning” of this dream like it is the case with Spellbound. However, the symbols are clear enough to understand that it reflects a part of Scottie’s life that begins to haunt him more and more.

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Vertigo‘s dream sequence is also the proof that this film used Technicolor to its full potential. I must admit, the first time I saw this scene, I felt slightly uncomfortable, but I think it is meant to be. What particularly frightened me is this moment when Scottie advances toward’s Carolotta’s tomb where a hole has been dug to put a coffin. I was only expecting to see Carolotta’s rotten corpse lying there, but, luckily, there wasn’t anything of the sort. I remember my sister coming in the living room right during this dream sequence and saying “Ah, that’s scary!” before leaving. But once you are more “used to it” you find it somehow fascinating. I love the short moment were Galvin Elster, Carlotta Valdes and Scottie are next to a window and the first two just stare at Scottie with a very cold look. The nightmare scene is also in perfect harmony with the music and, therefore, there’s something very choreographical about it.

 

Rebecca (1940)

“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again” – Mrs. DeWinter (Joan Fontaine), Rebecca

It’s with this iconic sentence that Daphné DuMaurier introduced her most acclaimed novel, Rebecca. Of course, Hitchcock had to use it in his Oscar-winning film. “I” De Winter (Joan Fontaine)’s dream evokes the memory she has of Manderley, the place where she used to live with her husband Max DeWinter (Laurence Olivier). In her dream, Manderley is burnt and now a desolate place. This is also a vision of reality and the rest of the film is a long flashback that will help us understand the mystery and the fatal faith of this rich domain.

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This dream scene at the beginning that introduces the film is filmed in a subjective point of view. It is seen through the narrator’s eyes, the second Mrs. DeWinter. Joan Fontaine’s enchanting and smooth voice adds a certain tranquility to the sad vision of the abandoned place. It’s interesting how this dream that is so calm is abruptly interrupted by a crash of waves in the following scene. This sequence wasn’t directed by Dalí, but we still can admire its beautiful black and white cinematography that gives it a vision of poetry.

 

Marnie (1964)

“You Freud, me Jane? “ – Marnie Edgar (Tippi Hedren), Marnie

Just like Spellbound, Marnie has psychoanalysis as a central subject. The main character, Marnie, is a cleptomaniac and also has a phobia of the colour red. Interestingly, in opposition to the previous movies, we actually never see Marnie’s dreams. We only see her dreaming. It is obvious that those are nightmares. To highlight her fear of red, these scenes are filmed with a red flashy lightning which makes the dream even more threatening than it already is. But what is the symbolism or this red that Marnie is so afraid of? The Devil? Violence? Blood? Marnie’s dreams always start with something knocking and the furious first notes of Bernard Herrmann’s score. Marnie constantly evokes her mother in her dreams and it seems that she is associated with some bad memories. Just like Spellbound, these dreams will help us to discover the truth about the title character. However, here the subject of psychoanalyse wasn’t as developed as it was with Spellbound.

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These are, I would say, the essential Hitchcock’s dream scenes. However, one can observe that some of his scenes, although they portrait reality and not a dream, are almost filmed like a dream because of the light, the colours, the blurry image, the way it is shot, etc. A few examples would be the weird trial scene in Dial M for Murder (Margot Wendice is living a real nightmare); the flashback scene in I Confess (which has a very clear and white image); when Margaret Lockwood’s faint in The Lady Vanishes; in Vertigo when Judy comes out of the bathroom metamorphosed into Madeleine, etc. François Truffaut even said to Hitchcock that, for him, many of his films, such as Vertigo and Notorious, looked like filmed dreams.

Dream scenes in movies give the occasion to the film crew to explore a different way to illustrate something. Of course, all dreams are different so, according to each movie director, a dream scene can be very different. We observe that Hitchcock’s dream scenes are mostly nightmare or, in Rebecca‘s case, the vision of something sad. Most of the time, these reflect the past of a character, a trouble hidden in his or her subconscious or a difficult situation.

Which Hitchcock’s dream scene fascinates you the most?

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Source:

– Truffaut, François. Hitchcock/Truffaut. Gallimard. 1993.

 

 

Many Thanks to the Participants of the 3rd Wonderful Grace Kelly Blogathon

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I must admit, I first hesitated to host this blogathon again this year, but I’m glad I did because I read some excellent entries written by the participants. Grace Kelly is one of those personalities who highly deserves to be celebrated, who deserves to be honoured with a blogathon.

With their marvelously written work, the participants showed a beautiful admiration and respect for the graceful lady. If she was alive, I’m sure Grace would have been pleased by what she would have read.

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I didn’t have many participants as I usually have in my other blogathons, but I think here we had the perfect example of “quality over quantity”.

If you haven’t read the entries yet, please do so. You won’t regret it. Here is the link:

The 3rd Wonderful Grace Kelly Blogathon

And since there aren’t many articles, you don’t have any excuses not to read them all! Haha!

And thanks again to the participants. Without you, there wouldn’t be any blogathon!

See you next year, I hope! 🙂

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