An organized riot of images and sounds, Moonage Daydream is perhaps the only way a documentary biographer could approach the story of David Bowie. Brett Morgen (“Crossfire Hurricane”) has made his true masterpiece, the perfect film to celebrate a multifaceted life of aesthetic excess.
It’s a glorious celebratory montage of archive material, live performance footage, Bowie’s own experimental video art and paintings, movie and stage work and interviews with various normcore TV personalities with whom Bowie is unfailingly polite, open and charming.
Encapsulating, while simultaneously doing justice to, the life and work of a prolific and consummate artist like David Bowie is no easy feat. Sufficiently taking account of the extensive repertoire of this iconic musician/writer/painter/actor in a single film – even one that runs more than two hours – is a gargantuan undertaking just to include what Bowie did, let alone examine how and why he did it. But writer-director Brett Morgen has done just that – and succeeded brilliantly – in his latest cinematic offering, combining elements in a way that paints an insightful picture of the multifaceted artist, presenting viewers with an engaging, entertaining and introspective profile of this enigmatic and captivating talent. Morgen tells his story through Bowie’s own words, culled from numerous interviews and media appearances over the years. This material is augmented with stirring concert and music video performance footage, clips from the actor’s movie and stage appearances (including such works as “The Man Who Fell to Earth” (1976), “Just a Gigolo” (1978), “Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence” (1983), “The Hunger” (1983) and “Labyrinth” (1986), as well as his 1980 Broadway turn in “The Elephant Man”), and an array of imagery from other artistic and cinematic sources that enhance themes prominent in Bowie’s works and the periods when they were released. The film features am impressive wealth of musical numbers, including moving performances of staples like Heroes, When You Rock ʼn Roll with Me, Space Oddity, All the Young Dudes and a heartfelt rendition of Word on a Wing (accompaniment for Bowie’s sentiments on his endearing relationship with model/actress Iman), along with several lesser-known works and impromptu collaborations with world musicians. In incorporating all this, some have criticized the picture’s length, but, when one considers just how much there is to cover, how can a filmmaker justifiably impose a shorter duration simply because the production may try the attention span of a few impatient viewers? That seems like a petty quibble in light of everything this release has to offer. That’s especially true when one realizes that this combination serves up a portrait of Bowie unlike others about him and those of other artists of his stripe, boldly setting this film apart from other biographies of this kind. It is by far the best documentary I’ve seen so far this year, if not one of the best films overall that I have screened in 2022. Fans and followers of Bowie are sure to enjoy, even be moved, by this offering, one that raises his artistic profile (and, one would hope, the level of appreciation he justly deserves) for the diversity and depth of his body of work, something that’s bound to become more widely recognized in the years to come.
Dizzyingly creative, maddeningly incomplete - and utterly perfect. Now who does that remind you of? I don’t know what a non-Bowie fan would make of this, but if you loved the man, or loved his music, give it a try. It was a singular experience for me, I really have not felt like that in a cinema ever before. At one point 3 songs are playing at the same time - while the video for a 4th is on screen - it can make you feel like you’ve forged in something sweet. It’s a fitting tribute to a wonderful career, and I can think of no higher praise. To the few people who are grumpy it wasn’t another boring bio-doc, pay no heed. This is something altogether other. It’s something that’s worthy of the artist, and there’s no higher praise I can think of. To those few people who bemoan the fact that it’s not another boring bio-doc, pay no heed. This is something altogether other.
The best and most profound parts of Moonage Daydream are when we just get to hear Bowie share great quotes about his creative process, how he loved to challenge himself by traveling to unknown places to grow as an artist, and how he learned to embrace life and be curious about everything.
It could have been a straightforward documentary about the David Bowie story — but who wants straightforward when it comes to Bowie? Instead, Moonage Daydream is a gloriously innovative trip into the Thin White Duke’s mind, written, directed, and edited by Brett Morgen.
This is not a documentary for people who can't take out of their heads the typical form of the genre, and that's something to appreciate from Moonage Daydream, that it feels as original, fresh and with that much of fantasy to make us feel that its really David Bowie the subject matter of this film, specially his work as an artist. Moonage Daydream is set to be seen on the biggest screen posible, with the loudest speakers and with a great amount of people, it will be an experience worthy of your money and time
Bowie was a genius and a true artist.
And as such NOTHING was really revealed about the man or his art.
This movie would play better in a museum. Walking from gallery to gallery and admiring his art. But I'm bummed that I didn't learn anything about his pers0nal life inspirations, or what it was like to work with the man.
I'm holding out for the definitive Bowie doc. It's shiny all right, but there's not much substance. Next time.
What a wasted opportunity! There's so much archival footage of Bowie out there - concert and interview - but this feels like they just put it all in a blender, added some random unrelated images, and then made some last-minute fixes to give it some sense of a narrative toward the end. It's like they used Oblique Strategies, but forgot to use the basic starting point: try to make what you're making (in this case a documentary).
Although the film is largely bookended by two renditions of Bowie's excellent 1996 semi-hit, "Hallo Spaceboy," the film exists almost entirely in the space between Ziggy and Let's Dance, those dozen years most commercially and critically fruitful for Bowie. That too seems a shame, since we're only treated to brief mentions of his prior and subsequent life, personal and artistic. That sends the message that the only artistically important part of his life was the same period where he effectively had no family (or so the film seems to argue).
To that end, we're hit over the head repeatedly with the fact that Let's Dance was the least creative of his albums up to then, as though that creative drought stayed true for the subsequent decades. The words "Tin Machine," for example, are never once uttered. (Neither are "Pet Shop Boys," his collaborator for the aforementioned first rendition of "Hallo Spaceboy.")
Instead, most of the non-musical part consists of Bowie interviews. Had these been properly contextualized - with music and biography - they could have given a good portrait of the artist. Instead, they're interspersed with contemporaneous (but not necessarily related) concert performances, some cut, some altered, most with extraneous imagery.
The concert footage is the film's saving grace, but the format still got tiring. The audience was the most restless audience I'd seen in a movie geared toward adults. At the end, one woman's biggest complaint was how it totally ignored the members of Bowie's band. I thought that was odd to focus on, but it did exemplify how much was left out of the film to make room for archival interviews, always of Bowie himself. Without better artistic contextualization, these interviews all start to sound like a bit of celebrity navel-gazing, and I had to resist the urge to respect Bowie less coming out of the theater than I did going in. But then I realized that that's the filmmakers' fault, not Bowie's. Such a shame, though.