Moonage Daydream is a movie made manifest by the disembodied voice of David Bowie. Seeking to capture Bowie’s lightning bolt in a cinematic bottle, Montage of Heck director Brett Morgan delivers a documentary that flirts between insight and indifference.
… Moonage Daydream ultimately wrestles with a life that wasn’t built to be explained.
What the film does successfully is to identify Bowie as a stranger hiding in plain sight. Touching the imaginations of several generations, he’s a moving target trying to dodge any mortal concerns. Dressed provocatively, he would seem easy prey for bygone interviewers such as Dick Calvert and Russell Harty. Yet, as a colourful guest, David Bowie is far too smart a prospect for them. Inverting their questions so that they become the ones who look ridiculous, Bowies instead uses their TV lenses to reach down to teenagers whose parents would ultimately struggle to contain them.
And that’s all great. However, all of these lighting bolts from the blue come wrapped up in extended blasts of dull concert footage. In danger of drowning your patience with its need to be as elusive as its subject, Moonage Daydream’s appeal begins to wander into the only-for-the-fans territory.
Fortunately though, the film’s subject is golden. As Bowie collects personalities from London to LA to Berlin and back again, if anything, the film becomes a psychedelic scrapbook much akin to Kenneth Anger’s Hollywood Babylon. Serving up slim morsels of reality on a bed of hyper-saturated film references, some feature Bowie and yet many don’t. Clips of Ai No Corrida, Metropolis, Event Horizon, and Johnny Mnemonic all rub shoulders with Bowie-starrers like Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence, The Hunger and Labyrinth, the sum of which ends up jarring rather than jolting you towards a better understanding of its subject.
Without question, the film’s psychedelic inclination is a really attractive one. Yet, even after taking in all the visual nods and cues, it has to be said that the BBC’s David Bowie: 5 Years still remains the best insight into the Goblin King and all his influences. A decent enough attempt to compress Bowie’s fascination with the impermanence of experience, Moonage Daydream ultimately wrestles with a life that wasn’t built to be explained.
Judge for yourself, should its moonbeams dance your way.