Arts & Culture Film, Theatre & TV


  • January 13, 2023
  • 6 min read

Moonage Daydream. The David Bowie Documentary

The Kinks singer-songwriter Ray Davies once sang, “I’m not like everybody else”. Neither was David Bowie, the top selling vinyl artist of the twentieth century. In 2022 it was time for a more ‘unconventional’ Rock Documentary to be made about this wholly ‘unconventional’ artist.  

TV Rock Documentaries have been made for decades in the time-honoured tradition of ‘talking heads’ with archival clips weaving their way through swathes of beard stroking compatriots. Usually with 50% of on screen documentary time being given over to blather from those who once wrote for a formerly influential, but now fading music press. This film is not like that at all. 

Director, Producer, Editor, Brett Morgan needed a trick-to-pull in order to seduce an audience growing weary of this genre of documentary making. One that had lapsed into a production line of retrospective Electronic Press Kits for a cartel of record labels. Those remaining ‘big four’ Record Industry giants that continue to hold financial ransom notes via restrictive practice. 

So, what does it take to kick the genre up the backside? Well we all know. Don’t we? It takes skill. Then a lot of money! Bucket loads of it. Add to that ‘access’ and ‘permissions’ from artists, and, in this particular case, the David Bowie estate. Brett Morgan pulls this off via a long list of Executive Producers that would fill a banqueting hall. I’d hate to think of the arguments they all had. Yet, in this instance, Morgan got ‘Director’s Cut’ and indulged in his own brand of auteur’s film making. 

What he delivers is as Sight & Sound Magazine states, “Loud, bright and vibrant. It is pure cinema!” In an era where the word ‘immersive’ is the new buzzword for an indulgent experience. Moonage Daydream is just that: ‘Immersive’. Although not yet fully delivered in 360 degrees of visuals. Only in certain scenes does the full 360 surround-sound kick-in. This makes you feel like you’re at a David Bowie concert back in the 1970’s. 

 In particular?

The Jean Genie’s segue into The Beatles’ Love Love Me Do, featuring Jeff Beck on guitar. Prepare to weep. 

The Brett Morgan Technique

Previously, in 2002, Morgan co-directed a film about the Hollywood movie mogul Robert Evans called The Kid Stays in The Picture. Evans had run Paramount Pictures in the 1970’s and was a larger than life character that narrated his own audio book. Evans didn’t want to appear in an interview situation with Morgan, but instead suggested that he cut images to accompany the ‘voice-over’ from the audiobook. Morgan created a documentary of pure cinema. He has continued that particular film making technique here with Moonage Daydream. Dozens of Bowie audio files accompany this 2 hour and 15 minute zigzagging montage, covering David’s entire career, and what he describes vocally, off-screen, what was in his mind at the time. Much of this alludes to the nature of his existence and his desire to put into life as much as possible. 

 Bowie couldn’t have achieved more than he actually did. His life was jam packed. 

Moonage Daydream’s ‘Morgan technique’ is the film’s inner strength. It may also be its weakness. Some scenes are over long and over blown. There are also three major oversights. Chiefly, the marginalising of Angie Bowie and her stylistic influence on Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane and Thin White Duke characters. Angie is virtually erased, whereas David’s later wife, Iman, is not. Secondly, during his Young Americans period we are not party to live period performances, nor those from his Station-To-Station album. Nevertheless, his chat show appearances from that timeframe are present.

One chat show with American host Dick Cavett segues into a formerly thought lost Thames ITV afternoon interview with Mavis Nicholson. She catches David off guard and asks him if he could cope with both a full time partner, plus fame? David replies that his kind of love would have to be “love from afar!” There is a long pause. Mavis had mined his Achilles heel. All on ‘live-to-air’ afternoon ITV. Missed by most back then, it is a lump in the throat moment. Deftly re-edited by Morgan, the most salient moment of the entire film. 


The Piccadilly Rats: Live in Moderation

 The London Premiere of Nathan Cunningham’s debut documentary took five years to produce. It follows Gaz, a litter picker who formed a much-loved older band of Mancunian buskers, leading to tragic-comic results. The group of’ real characters consisted of guitarist-singer Gaz, plus a guy that wore a massive Rat’s mask who’d once been in John Robb’s group, Goldblade; seen busking alongside a 70-year-old version of the Mancunian dancer Bez. The most endearing one of them all, however, was a loveable nearly deaf fella, a self-styled clown that wore a policeman’s outfit. A twitching Keystone Cop.

Local heroes in Manchester’s Piccadilly area, they sought fame and fortune. Amid accidents, bad luck, and many nights arguing inside their local pub, they finally opened The Kendal Music Festival after having just split-up!

 A heart-warming film about the true value of friendship in times of austerity, The Piccadilly Rats deserves to win many awards. 

Heaven Stood Still: The Incarnations of Willy DeVille

The world premiere of Larry Locke’s touching documentary biopic traces Willy’s life from New York’s CBGB’s to London’s Hammersmith Odeon. Willy’s band, Mink DeVille, brought a melodic Latin-Soul-Punk fusion to Britain in the shape of his hit Spanish Stroll. Lauded by Ben E King and Bob Dylan, he was produced by both Mark Knopfler and Jack Nitzsche. Willy was later dropped by his American label, but picked up again in France where he sought-out Edith Piaf’s musicians to become a European version of Tom Waits. He later reinvented himself New Orleans style, too, before creating a Mariachi version of the song Hey Joe. He gained an Oscar nomination for a song he’d written about a ‘love lost’ that was later featured in The Princess Brides. Overlooked and undervalued, this film gives the late Willy DeVille a long overdue credit. A star who should have shone as brightly as Bruce Springsteen. 

Watch out for Heaven Stood Still.    

About Author

Henry Scott Irvine

The published author of Procol Harum's hardback Omnibus Press biography, Henry Scott-Irvine's writing began in the script departments of the British film industry. He continued as a Film & TV 'Music & Arts' researcher. He has a long background in published journalism. A radio producer-presenter since 2009 as well as a producer of the award winning documentary film Tales From Tin Pan Alley. He's a successful campaigner for securing listings and preservation for London's music & film heritage sites.

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