Told through archive interviews interspersed with live concert footage, scenes from his filmography, and other movies, 'Moonage Daydream' tracks the life and career of David Bowie and his many reinventions and reimaginations...
David Bowie was an artist who existed in a place of complete movement and transition. He went from the Ziggy Stardust era, to the Thin White Duke era, to the Berlin era, on into his commercial age, to his 'Heathen' era, and beyond to his elder statesman role. Each time Bowie shed his skin and bore a new one, he gave lengthy and revealing interviews wherein he explained himself, his reasons, his artistic credo for that moment. It's so rare nowadays for musicians or actors or really any artist of any stripe to give so fully of themselves to the interview process, and it's in this that 'Moonage Daydream' finds its power.
The documentary - if you can really call it that, because it has more in common with an art installation than anything else - uses only one voice to activate itself for the duration - Bowie's. 'Moonage Daydream' opens in his Ziggy Stardust era, where we see Bowie give interviews talking about his bisexuality, his makeup, his costumes, and as he's seated in a chintzy televisions studio with a sideburned interviewer, we hear his voice years after the fact, describing his thinking and his reasoning for all of it. He discusses his wild drug use, his hedonistic lifestyle, how he flowed with whatever creative impulse was driving him at that moment, and how it impacted his later work.
Intercut with these reflections are selections from Bowie's filmography. Scenes from '80s erotic horror thriller 'The Hunger' make up moody moments, while the likes of 'Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence' cut in with the likes of 'Labyrinth' or 'The Man Who Fell To Earth'. In between this, you'll see vivid montages and flourishes, spliced together with grainy footage of his concerts, his recording sessions, his personal videos, some odd bits and pieces from other movies, all of them linked together by the constant presence of Bowie's music and voice.
Brett Morgen's other work, particularly 'Montage of Heck', was noted for how cleanly it got under the skin of Kurt Cobain. In 'Moonage Daydream', this is equally true. You really do get to crawl around inside Bowie's head, how he viewed music, how he viewed art, how he consistently struggled with himself to improve, reevaluate, reimagine, and to make something unique each and every time he stepped up. The use of music, coupled with the variety of footage and how it's deployed, makes 'Moonage Daydream' one of the most boldly unique efforts of its kind.
Music documentaries are so often relatively unadventurous. It lets talking heads or archive footage have all the fun, talking about the booze and the craziness with a safe distance and by those who survived it. You'll often find musicians and producers speak across one another, discussing their intent, the technicalities, the personality clashes, but it rarely only goes so deep. Even though 'Moonage Daydream' features no interviews or footage of Bowie after his passing, you can still sense that this is him speaking from beyond in a fashion. Director Brett Morgen so clearly understands Bowie and his appeal on an intrinsic level, and is unafraid to let the documentary examine and embrace his creatively weaker moments. Hell, the Pepsi advert he did with Tina Turner gets a look-in, not to mention the searingly cringe music video with Mick Jagger for 'Dancing In The Street'.
Even if you have a passing interest in Bowie, 'Moonage Daydream' is worth the time because it will make you an obsessive by the end. You are taken on a journey through space, time, life, death, rebirth, art, and commercialism, and all of it is told with clarity and vision.