There are various types of documentaries, ranging from the more educational to the more artistic, Moonage Daydream certainly falls on the spectrum of the latter. Brett Morgen is not very interested in telling us facts about David Bowie -for example, he does not mention even once what is possibly the most important musician of his career, Mick Ronson- but he is interested in creating something personal and unique, a kind of immersive experience with Bowie’s music, with the help of a spectacular editing, the voice of the protagonist himself as the only support throughout the film and images from the most diverse sources, from Murnau to Buñuel, including videos of the artist himself. It is a documentary that immerses itself in his music and his work without delving encyclopedically into it, leaving it up to the viewer to respond to it, through the director’s excellent editing and Bowie’s own music. If you like it, you’ll have time to learn who Ronson, Tony Visconti, Brian Eno, Mike Garson or Carlos Alomar are. I think it’s a totally appropriate choice.
It is true that he doesn’t tell us anything new, there is no special revelation, but he lets Bowie’s music speak for itself and that is a revelation in itself, listening to pieces like “Warszawa” contrasted with “Quicksand” tells us about an artist with a very wide palette, someone who began worshipping Little Richard but who also had his head blown off 15 years later when he listened to Kraftwerk. An artist who based his personality on constant change and search, who preferred to drown in unknown waters than to show off in already known terrain. A walk that takes us from Ziggy to the black star, passing through the slim white Duke or the Berlin experimenter, Morgen assembles a kaleidoscope to show us his own artistic version of Bowie, the chameleon of a thousand faces and a thousand disguises. I think the protagonist would have liked the poetic license.
Morgen makes several difficult decisions, in a career so long and with so many changes it is impossible to talk about everything, the film begins with Ziggy Stardust, almost obviating the previous, and it is that character that guides many of the decisions of the film, but it is that he is the fundamental character of all this, it is incredible and radiant every performance that comes out of the time, like that appearance of Jeff Beck with the Spiders from Mars playing “The Jean Genie” and mixing it with “Love Me Do”, also that “Rock’n’Roll Suicide” that here does not mark the death of Ziggy but the end of the most commercial and less risky Bowie of the 80s, the moment in which he returned to live under his motto of constant search and change, even if it was at the cost of losing audience.
It is true that some of Moonage Daydream‘s decisions are questionable, why a chapter dedicated to Iman and not a single reference to Angie, his first wife, or Duncan Zowie Jones, his only son? It is also debatable that cocaine, the drug that was his food base during his entire period in Los Angeles, is not named once. It may not even be necessary, the whole montage with the live version of “Cracked Actor” from the 1974 tour is done in the greater glory of the white powder that got Bowie into his decadent rock star phase. The funny thing is that the Bowie stuffed to the gills flirting with the ridiculousness and stupidities of the goofy rock star left us with an album as mind-blowing as Station To Station, one that he didn’t even remember recording, and not the self-indulgent, overblown album that is usually the norm in these cases.
Moonage Daydream is less about trying to teach us new things than it is about celebrating the artist who managed to thrill us for so long.
Maybe Moonage Daydream explains it well when we see Bowie answer an interviewer who asks him why he doesn’t show his sculptures and paintings. The artist is clear about it, saying something like he knows he is an exceptional composer, but he is not so clear about the other. And if the documentary proves anything it is that Bowie was really an exceptional composer, that does not mean that he is free of much of the idiocy that surrounds rock, like those explanations about his personality based on the horoscope or those interviews where he seems to be on Mars, but the guy has left us 30 or 40 songs for which 99.9% of the people who are dedicated to this would have given several years of life to compose, gigantic gems like “Space Oddity”, “Life On Mars?” or “Heroes”, all of them present in the footage. And the fact is that even in his not particularly brilliant times, like those 80’s when he was more successful than ever, he was capable of composing wonders like “Modern Love” or “Absolute Beginners”.
It is also true that the ending is abrupt and that we (I) would have liked to know more about what he thought about those years of retirement, why he felt the need to come back and, above all, to hear his opinion about that marvel with which he said goodbye, Blackstar, but Moonage Daydream is less about trying to teach us new things than about celebrating the artist who managed to move us for so long. That’s why I consider the ending absolutely wonderful, a small part of “Blackstar” is played, the one where he says that something happened on the day of his death and it seems that we are going to be sad with the goodbye, but Morgen doesn’t want to say goodbye like that, then over the dreamlike images of that same video a countdown begins to play, almost similar to that of “Space Oddity”, but what begins to play is the euphoric chorus of “Memories Of A Free Festival”, The sun machine is coming down, and we’re gonna have a party, Morgen sets it up with images of Bowie saying goodbye to an audience that joins him in the chorus. It’s ecstatic, almost messianic, it’s a full-fledged farewell but not an end point, the spaceship is ready to take off again, in the future a new career in a new place, possibly the stars, it’s time to say goodbye to Bowie. The credits roll, “Starman” begins to play, in some other galaxy they are about to meet an alien, named David or Ziggy, who will change their lives forever.