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Brett Morgen’s David Bowie Documentary “Moonage Daydream” Reviewed

In 1999 Edmund White published the official President Reagan biography “Dutch: A Memoir of Ronald Reagan” in which he created a character, Edmund White, to observe Reagan’s life. This was a terrible idea and a terrible book. I mention it because “Montage Of Heck” director also turns a a documentary of David Bowie into a terrible movie due to a terrible idea: that immerse us in Bowie, Brett Morgan fails to provide any context for the images he blasts us with.

rocknyc’s Alyson Camus went to a q and a with Brett after an early screening of “Montage Of Heck” in 2015 and wrote this (here) and it also applies to his new David Bowie documentary “Moonage Daydream”:

“When talking about the amount of people who were part of Nirvana and who ended up not being part of the film: ‘I don’t like information though’… ‘I am not into fact-checking in that sense, I am into the experience of it’… ‘facts and I don’t mean I am not into the truth, I am invested into finding the truth as anyone else,… I mean the emotional truth’.

“And this was probably the best way to sum up the movie. During 150 minutes we are bombarded by a lot of colorful images, super 8 home movies, loud concert footages, animated pages of Cobain’s journal, cartoons, handwritten lyrics and doodles coming alive, it is a hell of a rollercoaster, and the emotions run high, blurring everything in a big hurricane of feelings, violence, rebellion and drug haze. If Morgen had wanted to make a film about the impressions that Cobain may have inspired him, the overwhelming sensations that a Nirvana concert may have left on him, I would be totally fine with it, and I would even said this is brilliant. Unfortunately he sells us his movie as the first authorized documentary about Kurt Cobain, and this is where I have a problem, because when it comes to documentaries, I care about fact-checking.”

If you care about fact checking abandon hope all ye who enter here. “Moonage Daydream” is cross cutting montage, with no center of balance despite a lodestone Ziggy that he returns to over and over again. Even with a working knowledge and more of Bowie’s career, you will get loss. There are no explanations of who is where and when, there is no single song performed completely, there is just endless crosscutting with no sense of time and place, if you did not know Bowie you would assume he had perfected the 50 second song: Bowie floats like a butterfly through scene after scene, and while Brett takes you, howling and screaming, from Ziggy to Let’s Dance in fits and starts, the 90s are a black hole and we only return to the music with Blackstar.

The deeper insult is that Bowie’s estate gave Brett access to the Bowie archives and except for an extended, meaningless walkaround Thailand (circa “Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence” based upon his haircut), put here and there for no good reason, what exactly did he use? The best bits were from “Cracked Actor”.

Morgan claims to be providing an immersive experience but it is like paddling in the Red Sea when you think you’re on the cote d’azur. With a lack of context it amounts to Bowie images overload with some moronic cultural harbingers added to taste. Not unlike the new Stoppard play it doesn’t want to pull you out for a moment because it doesn’t trust you to re-immerse yourself -it wants to watch you drown in Bowie.

The saving grace would be the songs if he left them alone to play out (the soundtrack album is much better), a terrific live “All The Young Dudes segued to “Oh You Pretty Things” -if only he played out the damn track, “the Rock ‘N’ Roll with Me” is a beautiful version and the four minutes plus on the album is magical and the “Sound And Vision” is magnificent with a couple of new lines (“I will dream of other lands waiting for the gift of sound and vision”) .

If the visions and sounds fail to reveal David Bowie, the voiceovers are terrible God building exercises. To recreate Bowie as a messiah with god given ass you need to prove it and to prove it you need to show Bowie as he was and not whoever Bowie now appears to be. Bowie is the groupie fucking, wife dumping, drug addict of your dreams and if his final ending brought him out the other side, the process of changing, like the process of creating, is not here.

I went to the movie with True Groove CEO Tomas Doncker (he enjoyed it more than I did) who wondered why his wife Iman Bowie didn’t hand the keys to Duncan Jones (aka Zowie) who apparently didn’t throw all his homework on the fire. Duncan is a professional movie director and would have shown us something we don’t know. It isn’t all Morgan’s fault, 150 minutes is too short for anything approaching a fully formed portrait, it should have been made into a serial for some streaming service.

Still the music when it plays is wonderful and the film of montage uber alles while boring for a stretch is still a beautiful thing to see even if you have seen all you need to see if you see the trailer above.

Grade: C-

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