Director: Brett Morgen
Talent: David Bowie
Release Date: September 23
In 2017, filmmaker Brett Morgen received unprecedented access to the personal archives of David Bowie. It was enviable, this insight the director was granted. The late-singer-songwriter’s vault was a literal trove of cultural riches, being a staggeringly comprehensive library of his master recordings and media appearances.
As such, what was less enviable was Morgen’s next task. He was to assemble a documentary on Bowie’s life from this archive, five million plus assets strong. The sheer depth of information contained within the collection could have led to a soberly comprehensive and chronological biography, or a bland dispelling of the artist’s mystique.
But instead, Morgen resurfaced with Moonage Daydream, a hypnotic and psychedelic journey into Bowie as an artist, a public figure and an icon. Tapping into his allure by striving to match his restless ambition, the film is an ever-shifting kaleidoscope of visual aesthetics, oceanic soundscapes and philosophical tracts, narrated by Bowie himself.
Told in a non-linear fashion, Morgen casts Bowie almost as a Billy Pilgrim-type figure, hopping back and forth in time. Cutting between eras as far apart as Ziggy Stardust and Black Star, the filmmaker eschews fact in favour of truth, implying this character is a fourth-dimensional being.
Further still, by nodding to Bowie’s lifelong fascination with Nietzsche, Morgen plants in the viewer’s mind the thought that Bowie – the “Homo Superior” – assumed the mantle of God in the eyes of his followers. To many, he was the man who fell to Earth, the cultural architect of the 21st Century.
A cinematic odyssey into a singular mind, it is a beautifully overwhelming examination of Bowie as a physical person, an ethereal presence and an astral being. Presented as was Earth been presented by experimental documentarian Godfrey Reggio in Koyanisqaatsi, Morgen treats him as an artist to get lost within, rather than one to be logically dissected via a ledger-book of facts.
Moonage Daydream is 140 minutes of truth, Morgen’s truth. It is not who Bowie truly was, but as the filmmaker sees him. Borderline hagiographical, but aware of its bias, it is a captivating psychological trip, demonstrating why so many were entranced by his dynamic vision and deeply mournful of his loss.
Words: Michael Lanigan