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!
7- Absolute Beginners (Julien Temple, 1986)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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!
David Bowie documentaries/concert films
5- Cracked Actor (Alan Yentob, 1975)
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
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)
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)
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)
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.