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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The Ballet Scenes from Les Uns et les Autres (1981)

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Last February, I saw a ballet for the first time. It was Swan Lake and it was beautiful. Dance and cinema are two things that always fascinated me. As Christina from Christina Wehner and Michaela from Love Letters to Old Hollywood prove us with their En Pointe: the Ballet Blogathon, this dance style could be included in movies on several occasions. My choice for the blogathon is Claude Lelouch’s French film Les Uns et Les Autres, which contains some of my favourite dance numbers in a movie. The film is a complex one, so here I’ll really be only focusing on the ballet scenes only.

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Les Uns et les Autres is a great fresco depicting the lives of four different families on three different generations. Some actors play more than one role. For example, James Caan (from the American family) plays both Jack Gleen and his son Jason Glenn.

But let’s move to the dancing aspects of the film right now. Forget about the pink tutus, Les Uns et Les Autres challenges the clichés.

The audition

The film starts in Moscow in 1936. Tatiana (Belgium dancer Rita Poelvoorde) auditions to become Bolchoï’s first dancer. One of the judges, Boris Itovitch (Argentinian dancer Jorge Donn) falls under her charm. Tatiania fails to become the star of the Bolchoï, but she eventually marries Boris.

This first ballet scene is a simple, but a beautiful one. Here, the dancers are dressed in white. There are no extravagances as the first objective is to show us dance, not a fashion show. The camera revolves around the dancers to show us the moves on various angles. In this scene, there’s an alternation between the two ballerinas dancing and Boris’s reacting shots. He is obviously charmed by this thin white angel that Tatiana is. The ballerinas dance on Ravel’s Bolero, which will take an important place in this film.

 

Sergei’s Solo

Tatiana and Boris have a son, Sergei (also played by Jorge Donn), who later becomes a great dancer like his parents.

In this scene, he dances alone in a palace in front of a crowd of rich people. He wears gold and red pants and a red scarf in his hair. With his impressive talent, we can’t deny that he has inherited his parent’s passion for dance. This scene contains a few slow motions which allow us to husk the dancing movements. The room where he dances is a magnificent one with its large mirrors, its chandeliers, and its gilding. The chosen music for this scene is the energetic 4th movement from Beethoven’s 7th Symphony.

 

Apocalypse Ballet

This really is one of my favourite parts of the film. A filming crew is shooting a dance sequence. Everything starts slowly. Three men in white walk slowly surrounded by dense smoke. A funeral procession passes next to them. Suddenly, Michel Legrand’s musical theme for the film explodes and the dancers, wearing white and grey one-pieces, appears. They dance without stopping to advance. They are indeed surrounded by a real apocalypse: smoke, car accident, fire fighters, a helicopter, flames, etc. Here we are far from the prestigious palace where Sergei was dancing and we explore the creepy corners of a city. I love this scene for its dynamic staging, the music and the choreography itself, of course.

 

Dancing for the Red Cross

In this scene, we find back Sergei for an unforgettable final. Yes, this is the final scene of the film, but I encourage you to watch it now. As a matter of fact, I saw it before seeing the film and it just made me want to see it, you know. And, honestly, it doesn’t really spoil the story. It could perfectly have been the opening scene, followed by a long flashback. The scene takes place in Paris next to the Eiffel Tower. A ballet show is organized by the Red Cross. Sergei dances on a red platform surrounded by dancers dressed in black and white. Not long after the dance has started, Sarah Glenn (Geraldine Chaplin) daughter of Suzanne Glenn (also played by Geraldine Chaplin) and Jack Glenn (James Caan) appears on the top of the Eiffel Tower and accompanies the music with her singing voice. She is accompanied by Patrick Pratt (Manuel Gelin), also a singer. We can see in this scene that Sergei hasn’t lost his talent as a dancer. Jorge Donn moves with an impressive grace which makes him look like he’s flying. He almost makes ballet looks easy (in a good way), but we all know it’s not! What I also love about this scene is that it reunites all the still living characters of the film. Some are watching the show live, some are watching it on their television at home. It makes us realize that Les Uns et les Autres reunites quite an amazing all-star cast. Everybody watches the show religiously, but with a glimpse of nostalgia or, for some, of melancholy, in their eyes. Just like the audition scene, the chosen music here is Ravel’s Bolero, and it’s glorious.

When you’ll watch the clip, you can skip the first 3:30 minutes.

 

This scene definitely is one of my most favourite movie scenes ever. I love it because they kept it simple, but, yet, it manages to be majestic.

A big thanks to Michaela and Christina for hosting this blogathon! 🙂 I sure hope you took a look at all the clips!

Makes sure to check the other entries. 🙂

En Pointe: the Ballet Blogathon

See you!

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Top of the World: 10 Spanish Speaking Movies

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This past semester at university I had a Contemporary Spanish Cinema course. It was optional, but I took it for my own curiosity as, I have to admit, I don’t think I had seen any Spanish movies before. Here I mean Spanish from Spain. Some names were familiar, such as Almodóvar, but I still didn’t really know what to expect and if I would like it or not. Well, I did. The teacher was interesting and I loved almost all the movies we watched! The course is over now, but in good memory of it I’ve decided to do a…. top list! However, here I won’t only include Spanish movies from Spain, but Spanish speaking movies in general. So, some South American movies will be included on this list (actually, I think there’s only two) and movies produced by Spain, but not Spanish speaking won’t be included (here I can think of The Others with Nicole Kidman. We watched it in class, it’s very good, but not a word of Spanish is spoken in it).

Before I start the top, here are some new, and not so new warnings:

As I’ve just discovered the world of Spanish movies, I haven’t seen them all! So it’s no use saying “you should have put this film on your list.” If I haven’t seen it, I just haven’t, so I can’t include it. Among all the Spanish films I saw, I think that maybe 4 or 5 are not included in the list, so it’s not that much as you can see. And those are not like the “obvious” Spanish films that everybody should see. But of course, if you are curious to know if I have seen some particular film that might be among the 5 that are not on the list, you surely can ask! 🙂

I don’t say that any of these films are better than another one. This is a very subjective list. These are my personal favourites. Please respect my choices.

My course was about contemporary Spanish Cinema, meaning that the list doesn’t include Spanish movies from the 40s or the 50s for example. The oldest one is a 1980’s movie. However, if you know some good “old” Spanish films I should watch, please don’t hesitate to recommend them!

I think it would be important to mention that I did see all these films in class, but most of my viewings were related to the course, except for one.

All the Almodóvar’s films I saw are included in this list.

Ok, here we go!

10. La Mala Educación (Bad Education) – Pedro Almodóvar, 2004

I chose this film for my final essay of Spanish Contemporary Cinema and I got an…. A! 😀 Look what the teacher said about my text: “This was an excellent paper, with an outstanding engagement with both historical context and literature on the subject. Great work! Only as a minor comment, the paper, is 1000 words larger than the word count asked for, be sure to double check these things (I appreciate the effort but usually its better to try and not overdo too much). At any rate, this paper shows an excellent engagement with course topics and it was very insightful and complete assignment.”  Ok, I write too much, but hey! I got an A you know! 😉

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9. Flores de otro mundo (Flowers From Another World) – Icíar Bollaín, 1999

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8. Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (Mujeres al bored de un ataque de nervios)– Pedro Almodóvar, 1988

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7. La piel que habito (The Skin I Live in) – Pedro Almodóvar, 2011

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6. XXY – Lucía Puenzo, 2007

A very interesting and touching Argentinian movie about the complex subject of intersexuality. I actually saw this one in a different class.

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5. Todo sobre mi madre (All About My Mother) – Pedro Almodóvar, 1999

Definitely my favourite Almodóvar’s film so far, and the first I’ve seen.

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4. El laberinto del fauno (Pan’s Labyrinth) – Guillermo del Toro, 2006

Ok, I think everybody knows this one. I loved it, but I actually thought she would spend more time in the labyrinth!

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3. Pa Negre (Black Bread) – Augustí Villaronga, 2010

Another great film about Spanish Civil War, still with the mean guy from Pan’s Labyrinth. Here I cheat a little as the film is not in Spanish, but in Catalan.

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2. Y Tu Mama También (And your Mother Too) – Alfonso Cuarón, 2001

Another pretty well-known film. I watched it because of Gael García Bernal and I was not disappointed. Amazingly shot. A Mexican movie. The only one I watched that was not related to the course (or any other course if I think of XXY)

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1. También la lluvia (Even the Rain) – Icíar Bollaín, 2010

The film that made me discover Gael García Bernal. I didn’t know what to expect from this film, but it’s just amazing. The story is breathtaking and the actors are excellent. Not to be missed.

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Here it is. I know there’s much more I have to see such as Almodovar’s Talk to Her or Diarios de motocicleta with Bernal, but these films gave me a good preview of how great Spanish cinema is. If you are like me five months ago and haven’t seen any Spanish films, I hope this list will be useful to you!

It was good to be back! See you soon! 🙂

And Happy New Year too!