Moonage Daydream is an unusual music documentary about the late, great David
Bowie that is far less reliant on the use of talking heads (not the band) to
shed light on its larger-than-life subject, than most music docs. The film’s
title is taken from a song off Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, Bowie’s
most celebrated album. The song introduced Bowie’s most famous character, Ziggy
Stardust, the androgynous bisexual astronaut from outer space who wants to save
the world but is eventually killed by his followers. The film discusses that
landmark recording as well as many other songs and albums that make up Bowie’s
The film was directed and written by Brett Morgan, who has proved to be a
skillful and more than competent documentarian. He previously did The Kid Stays
in the Picture, Chicago 7 (about the famous anti-Vietnam War activists),
Crossfire Hurricane (about the Rolling Stones) and Jane (about naturalist Jane
Goodall). His best film is probably Kurt Cobain: Mountain of Heck about the
suicidal junkie singer/songwriter who led Nirvana and popularized the grunge
movement. Like that film we see an artist through bits and pieces of recorded
material, but I felt the other film worked a little better and was more
Moonlight Daydream includes film footage of the chameleon like Bowie in many of
his incarnations including Ziggy, the thin white duke, his pirate period, and
his brief clown phase. The film includes footage from concerts, clips from his
TV appearances (including his brilliant SNL appearance), and even scenes from
the films he acted in. He was surprisingly good often playing odd parts in films
as disparate films such as the Goblin King in Labyrinth. Pontius Pilot in Last
Temptation of Christ, a vampire in The Hunger and Andy Warhol in Basquiat.
This film examines the life of Bowie in a not always chronological fashion and
prefers to let the artist speak for himself rather than relying heavily on
interviews with those who knew him including the collaborators. The main
drawback to this approach is that although Bowie was heavily influenced by his
peers, influences and collaborators including Marc Bolan (the real father of
glam), Iggy Pop, Lou Reed, Klaus Nomi, Robert Fripp, Andy Warhol, and Anthony
Newley, the film ignores or hardly mentions most of these figures, although his
collaborator in the Berlin trilogy, Brian Eno is discussed. Because of this the film
sometimes seems to wrongly suggest that Bowie came out of a vacuum.
What is worse is that his first marriage to Angie Barnett is not mentioned at
all, and she was one of the biggest influences on his early image and music and
she helped steer him into androgyny and glam. But I guess that the film can’t be
all things to everyone and during its 140 minutes it covers lots of ground.
The bulk of the film concentrates on his glory period (from 1970-80) in which
Bowie did most of his experimental work and went from one triumph to another as
well as his inevitable artistic decline in the 80s which seemed to coincide with
the time, he had his greatest commercial success in America. The more normal and
more popular Bowie got the more conventional and boring he became which even he
partially admits in the film.
However much of this material has been widely covered already so for me the most
interesting stuff in the film deals his last recording Dark Star, which
surprisingly was one of his best and most disturbing in decades. Perhaps because
he knew he was going to die and confronted to fact in his songs.
Also fascinating is the segment in which Bowie discusses his outlook on the
modern world. Bowie believed that contemporary perceive everything in fragments
so to create a modern music that reflects the world it also necessary to reflect
the world’s fragmentation. The film also tries to do this with its use of quick
One of the most memorable pieces of footage is when a bunch of Bowie fans that
adopted his dress style cry when they cannot touch his hand.
What the film does offer that the other Bowie docs lack (and there have been
quite a few since he died) is the focus on his troubled personal and family
life. His mentally ill brother struggled mightily to control his schizophrenia,
and David was afraid he would end up going in the same direction. Also, in
interviews Bowie tells us how he never really felt love from his parents, and it
is possible that he tried to make up for this vacuum by filling his life with
his multimedia artistic career-besides being an actor and singer Bowie also
Although the film is worth seeing for both Bowie fanatics and casual fans
(although it offers less for the fanatics) it is not worth the outrageous cost
of $17.00 that some theatres are charging for IMAX screenings of the film.
Viewers would be better off streaming it or seeing it on a normal screen that is unenhanced.