askygoneonfire: Red and orange sunset over Hove (Default)
Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence (1983)

Jack Celliers: "What a funny face. Beautiful eyes..."

There are a number of reasons I didn't watch this to write a review last time I rewatched all my Bowie movies.  The biggest being: this film is brutal.  

Before I put it on again I ran through, in my mind, all the other prisoner of war movies I'd watched. I decided A Town Like Alice was worse because of the crucifixtion.  Upon watching Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence, I've revised that opinion. A Town Like Alice is a hard watch but it offers you something, right at the end; redemption. Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence offers no such concessions. It is an unflinching, critical, damning representation of war.

Everyone is brutalised. Everyone loses their minds. Everyone is lesser for war.  Everyone loses.

Against such a backdrop it feels almost trite to talk about the acting. But I will plough on regardless.

David Bowie isn't the star of the show. The stars, the backs upon whom the movie is carried, are Hara and the titular Lawrence. But I do think Bowie is perfectly cast for the repressed, guilty, self-destrcutive, honorable, uncompromising, Celliers. He is a madman in a world of manmen so it doesn't show. He is flamboyantly and quietly resistant.  I think it may be the best cast and best acted of all of Bowie's roles. Save, perhaps, for Labyrinth.

I understand Bowie was cast on the strength of his performance in The Elephant Man, which I feel gives him a quiet confidence in his abilties. Even the mime scene (because there has to be a bit of Bowie in there somewhere) is appropriate, proportional.  Bowie's character's death loses none of its horror with time. Again, I think Bowie acts those scenes of his 'crime' and death exceptionaly well. Blunt, almost numb. But direct.  I remember distinctly the first time I watched this movie I was in absolute disbelief that they could kill David Bowie, of all people, off so easily.  Some roundabout irony there, perhaps, to my reaction just 2 weeks ago.

The dud note - and again it seems there must always be one of those - is, for me, the decision to use the 36 year old Bowie to play his past 16 or 17 year old self.  Yes, this is Bowie - no, he does not look 36. But does he look 17? Not on your life. The whole flashback section is badly done but it does provide a visual relief from the desaturated nightmare that is the POW camp.  Finally, there's the lingering inconsistency of Celliers being Australian by birth and upbringing, along with a dodgy but not overdone accent up to the age of 17. And then the adult Celliers we meet at the beginning of the film apparently being cockney and in the British army, despite wearing an Australian army hat. BUT ANYWAY.

I must look up Bowie's comments on this role because it is such a big departure from what came before (although perhaps Celliers resignation to his fate does echo that of Thomas Jerome Newton) and it is, in my opinion, such a close study. I'd be interested too, to know what interaction if any he had with fellow actor and musician Ryúichi Sakamoto, who wrote the film's beautiful score.

All in all? A carefully made, and heart wrenchingly direct representation of life at a POW camp. This film is hard going, but Bowie and more make it worthwhile.

askygoneonfire: 'Love' painted on to four fingers of a hand (love hand)
So I was given 5 questions by [livejournal.com profile] meepettemu. I am supposed to say that if you comment and ask, I'll give you 5. And I will.

1: do you have specific plans for after your PhD, and if so, what are they?
This is the question that keeps me up at night. The simple answer is, I don't. The more involved answer is I want to stay in academia but to do that I need to pull my finger out and publish something and be prepared for a few years of continued precarious employment and be open to moving anywhere in the country to chase down any positions. The thought of starting all over again somewhere else in the country seems exhausting. But so does applying for jobs just in Brighton. I think there is a cruelty to the treadmill of academia where, at your lowest ebb, you need to muster the most energy to secure yourself employment and career. Whatever happens, it will surely be narrated here.

2: Is there a significance behind your raven tattoo? If so, what?
It's a carrion crow, not a raven. And yes, there is a significance. It's more of a narrative, really;

I love crows, I think they are wonderful, engaging animals and I enjoy every interaction I have with them. They are also, to me, quite strongly tied to Brighton, I have only ever lived closely with crows here in Brighton as they dominate the university's campus and I often sit and watch them at lunch, on breaks, and during my office hours (one memorable day, I saw a crow disembowel a dead rabbit, it was hilariously gruesome). They are also, of course, members of the corvid family. An exceptionally clever genus (corvus) they include the new caledonian crow which makes and uses tools, and the raven which can solve puzzles quicker than a 5 year old human. Good old, common, familiar carrion crows have also been shown to mourn their dead.

There is considerable mythology surrounding the crow, some of it I believe is clearly linked to observable behaviour (such as their feasting on carrion, mourning their dead, and intelligence and rational approach to problems) and the rest is the usual imaginative leaps of man. In particular, I like the mythology which says they are messengers for the dead/from the dead/of the dead, and that they are said to be able to see forward in time.

When my friend died, I felt something huge had shifted in the world. It came at a time I was trying to decide the direction of my life. The night I learnt she'd died I vowed to move back to Brighton, take control of my life and direct it in the way which my gut told me to go, and not be guided by financial fears or ideas of what I 'should' be doing. I did all of those things before the year was out.

I knew I needed a tattoo to mark this shift in my life, as a tribute and reminder of Lux, and an emblem of my new outlook and determination. I had also been considering a cover up of a tattoo I had got when I was 19 and trying to remind myself of my own strength and ability to stay alive. So, bearing in mind all of the above, I chose a crow - conveniently being an ideal colour for a cover up tattoo.

My crow is facing forwards - as we must always do - but looking backwards - remembering what has gone, seeing the lessons and people that came before. And he knows death, but he does not fear it, he simply knows it is a part of life and an essential part at that.

3: When you were a teenager, what were your career aspirations?
I never had a strong sense of where I wanted to go or who I wanted to be. The only career I ever really wanted was to be either a vet or a zoologist. Those dreams were quickly quashed by a) going to a shit comprehensive that ignored talent and neglected to aid underachievement and b) spending ages 15-19 being fucking miserable and very nearly getting no A Levels. I was not good enough at Maths or Science by the time I was in Sixth Form - largely because I was depressed, stoned, and in a dreadful school - for that to be a realistic dream so I let it go.

I'm not sure how I feel about it.

4: How old were you when you first realised you might not be straight?
The thing with being bi/queer/pan/whatever is not being straight doesn't come into focus as early as it seems to for your out-and-out gay folk. You can rattle along quite happily fancying men and assuming your feelings for women are comparable to the idol worship of your straight female friends. The clues were always in the men I fancied - they were never handsome or rugged or butch. They were all beautiful, delicate, thoughtful, queer, and vaguely off beat. I was never going to be the 'right' kind of heterosexual.

I think I was about 13 or 14 by the time I actually started having sexual feelings for women - which is around the time I started having sexual feelings for men, now I come to reflect on it. And I was 15 or 16 when I started coming out. As I mentioned in a post earlier this week, David Bowie was part of how I came to be sure. And so was Nicky Wire. 

I think I was about 19 or 20 before I heard the term pansexual and finally found a word to describe my specific desires, and adoration of the Bowies and Wires of this world. Queer entered my lexicon when I did my Masters at 22 and added another dimension to my self expression. 

5: Where in the UK would you choose to live if it could be anywhere?
Brighton. Where I am right now. Where I can't afford to stay and am unlikely to be in a year's time. And that is already breaking my heart.
askygoneonfire: David Bowie as the Thin White Duke (Thin White Duke)
Just a Gigolo (1978)

Cilly: "They used to call me the child prodigy of the revolution, but the revolution was a little slow in coming so I moved on."
Paul: "Yes, that seems to be my problem"


Judging by the section on reception on wikipedia, the score on Rotten Tomatoes, and the summing up on Film 4, I might be the only person in the world who likes this film.

I'm not sure why.  It's funny!  It's a really quiet, dry, funny, but funny all the same.   For crying out loud, David Bowie is carrying a pig around, arguing with people about whether or not he is dead for the first 20 minutes! 

Some reviews suggest the film couldn't decide what it was but I think it knows quite well. It's a black comedy on the interwar period in Berlin; capturing the listlessness and vague sense of fatalism which inflected the actions and spirit of Berliners at the time.  Perhaps it's because it so quickly reminded me of Christopher Isherwood's Goodbye to Berlin that I was so open to it.  It also evoked something of Jason Lute's City of Stones for me.  And, of course, Cabaret; fundamentally different from Cabaret of course, but it felt like you had walked round the corner from Sally Bowles' club and stumbled on a whole new story.  Whatever the cause of my susceptibility, I enjoyed it.  

I liked that it was broadly pessimistic. Such subject matter must be bleak.  And that bleakness comes through in the slightly anarchic, offbeat style.  

I liked that it poked fun at the Nazis as disorganised and stupid.  I liked the quiet, wry comment of the conclusion. I liked that Bowie's character was vaguely tragic and also utterly self-indulgent. I liked it.

As I said in my last post, all David Bowie movies need a bit of sex, lingering shots of his delicate features, and an off beat character.  Based on that criteria alone, it is a roaring success.  There are issues though. Marlene Dietrich's refusal to return to Berlin, filming all her shots in Paris and then having them pasted into the film, actually shows. There are bizarre pauses in the 'conversation' between her and Bowie when she recruits him as a gigolo.  And, frankly, there isn't enough sex. In fact, the idea Bowie really is a gigolo is something of a blink-and-you'll-miss-it plot point. It's all a nod and a wink instead of a fumble and a gasp. 

All in all, I thought it rather fun, rather knowing, rather silly and rather wonderful.
askygoneonfire: David Bowie in profile with a hat (Bowie Man Who)
The Hunger (1983)

It struck me, as I popped yet another David Bowie dvd into the player, that I never concluded the series of blog posts on them.

Tonight I watched The Hunger for the first time.

As David Bowie movies go, it fulfils the key requirements; a number of lingering shots playing over his beautiful features, a bit of sex, a somehow inhuman, or superhuman character. Unfortunately, he's only in it for about 40 minutes and only recognisable for about 20.

The Hunger is a curious film. To all intents and purposes, it's a well made (if you can ignore the monkey murder), engaging gothic-thriller-mystery for the first 20 minutes. Then, as the "make up illusions" (so claimed in the opening credits) begin to emerge it all goes rather downhill. Fast.

There's a brief reprise in the form of a reasonable lesbian sex scene, with Susan Sarandon looking the best she ever has. Then it gets....weird.  It's somehow a low budget vampire flick with hammy acting and inexplicable plotting, and also a big-name-star erotic thriller with a pleasingly open (and also absurd) ending.  

The use of "special" effects is...well. I want to say comendable. Because anyone brave enough to use such low quality fake blood so unconvincingly must be applauded for their efforts.

But what to celebrate? As so often with Bowie films, it's the smaller moments that make this film worth sitting through.  The beautiful scene with Bowie playing cello feels like it was lifted from a high end drama (incidentally, that's the clip they chose to loop at David Bowie Is in the screenign room). The moment as he lays awake in the dawn light and the camera plays across his fragile, wonderfully androgynous features: and he looks tired, and happy, and sad.  The very real lust which plays across his face as he undresses the girl from the club and cracks his tongue up her body.

That bit gives me dirty, filthy, longing shivers.  

Like so many other Bowie films, he gives his all to utterly implausible plots and badly executed screenplays, and shines in moments, just moments, which never get joined up into the tour de force he deserved.  The Man Who Fell to Earth comes closest, and I do love that film more with age, but Candy bloody Clarke is never going to disappear from that film, so sadly, it will never achieve what it should or could have.  Much like The Hunger.

On Bowie.

Jan. 11th, 2016 04:34 pm
askygoneonfire: David Bowie in profile with a hat (Bowie Man Who)
What to say on such a sad day?

How to put into words the depth of a loss which affects no material change in my social circle? How to express all the things that stranger, that alien, that musician, that performer, that extraordinary star meant to me?

I woke up to text messages asking me if I was ok. Their sources were diverse enough that I knew it was not a relation. So I ran through the options in my head; Nicky Wire? David Bowie? David Bowie.  David Bowie.

Open twitter to read what I already knew in the pit of my stomach.  And laugh at the absurdity. David Bowie clearly cannot die.  How ridiculous. I spent all weekend listening to the new album. Nobody who made something so vital could possibly die. How ridiculous. Spent the weekend thinking about how Blackstar was like, and unlike Outside. Mulling over the imagery in Lazarus.

Got in the shower. Lost my breath to wracking sobs. Can't be true, is true, can't be true, is true.

BBC News channel, the only place to go when the world turns upside down. Is true is true.

But, united. The whole of my twitter timeline, text messages, messenger keeps pinging, all of my facebook feed.  All united. Saying "surely not? He means too much to us all.".

At first I couldn't understand why his illness had been kept secret, but it is better this way. We'd have mourned him for a year and a half whilst he was still here. Brutal though today has been, it's clean. 

_ _ _ _ _ _


David Bowie pre-dates the Manics, as my obsessions go.  Like the rest of my generation I met him in Labyrinth. But I'd always known his songs; I remember playing with space station Lego, singing Space Oddity to myself, over and over again when I was 4 or so. But it came together in 2002, I bought Heathen after a rave review in Q and added it to Hunky Dory of my shelf. For 3 months in 2005 I listened to nothing but The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.  I waxed lyrical about his acting skill, and his dick, to a friend, when I got thrown out of a party for being too drunk and made him watch The Man Who Fell to Earth with me.  I went to Berlin with Station to Station and The Next Day in 2013.

I saw him live, his last UK show, in 2004 at the Isle of Wight Festival.  It was beautiful.  Perfect, actually.  He came on after England lost at football in some competition or other. Made a quip about sharing his initials with David Beckham. Launched into his set.  Turned around the mood.  Turned around the festival.  The sun went down as he played and when he went off stage, at the end, the woman near me shouted "we'll scream until the sun comes up".  As we walked back to the campsite there was a buzz.  People babbled in disbelief at what and who they had seen. I overhead two lads talking; "we saw him! The Thin White Duke! I can't believe we saw him!".  

I can't believe I saw him.

I knew I was not straight when I was young, perhaps 14 when it started to come into focus for me.  I remember asking my Mum, when I was 16 or so, if she liked Bowie.  She said "I did, until he said he was bisexual and then I went off him". And I remember that going to my very soul.  Bowie was with me, my Mum was not.  I clung to him. Immersed myself in Bowie's otherness.  I was sure my Mum would go off me, just like she had Bowie, when she knew the truth of me.  When I finally came out to my Mum it was with reference to that conversation; "would you hate me if I was bisexual?".

She didn't hate me.  She doesn't hate Bowie any more either. She told me today the news hit her like a punch to the stomach.  I think my sexuality and feeling accepted, and my Mum's feelings about Bowie will always be all tied up together for me.  

When I started reading autobiographies I felt a new sense of connection.  His brother had schizophrenia, before his sad death.  And that shaped who Bowie became and how he moved through life. A few people quote him as saying he feared he would lose his mind.  I know that fear. I am shaped by that fear.  Nobody who has stood so close to madness, to schizophrenia, can feel anything else.  My brother lost his mind when I was 11.  And then again, and again.  And by the time I was 16, perhaps earlier, I had no greater fear than losing my mind.  Still don't.

I took comfort in knowing Bowie shared that.  It changes you. It pushes you on.  

How far can you push yourself before you do? How does the free-wheeling, top of the roller-coaster moment feel? Who else can you be? Why be one person? If you have nothing to lose but yourself then it's time to let go of that tight grip of who you are and explore everyone you could be.

And look what happens when you let go, look what happens when you reinvent yourself, casting off each shell as you outgrow it. 

So he can't be gone, can he? It's just the latest reinvention.
askygoneonfire: Red and orange sunset over Hove (Default)
Basquiat (1996)

Everybody wants to get on the Van Gogh boat. There's no trip so horrible that someone won't take it. The idea of the unrecognized genius slaving away in a garot is deliciously foolish one. We must credit the life of Vincent Van Gogh for really sending this myth into orbit. I mean, how many pictures did he sell, one? He couldn't give them away. He has to be the most modern artist, but everybody hated him. He was so ashamed of his life that the rest of our history will be contribution to Van Gogh's neglect. No one wants to be part of a generation that ignores another like Van Gogh. - 'Rene' in Basquiat.
 
I only became aware of Jean-Michel Basquiat as a result watching this film because of what I'm calling the 'David Bowie factor'. Since then I have encountered some Basquiat paintings in the Tate Modern.  I'm not a fan but it's hard not to be moved and engaged by his work.

Watching the film today was only my third viewing; a big problem of this film for me is that Basquiat is a hard character to like. The film itself launches with a heavy art-house style but quickly abandons this style which is both disorientating and inexplicable; it's as though the director couldn't work out how to tell the story and maintain an impressionistic style so he did one and then the other. It's at the point the storytelling style shifts that you begin to connect to Basquiat but I fear rather a lot is lost in the intervening period. To say Basquiat's work has been hailed as speaking about and against racism, power structures, class, and was generally understood as social commentary, it's hard to explain why none of that is conveyed in the characterisation or speech of Basquiat. Ironically, I fear the filmmakers just made a movie about "a black painter who died", missing completely the content and form of his life and work.

Bowie comes in late and doesn't have a huge amount of screen time, however, I think it's one of his best performances. He produces a very believable humanity in his portrayal of Warhol that allows us to connect to Basquiat - and believe that Basquiat could find something in him to connect with. Bowie's performance is fully formed, textured, and delivered with a gentle, warm humour. In many ways, it is all the things that the character[isation] of Basquiat is not.

Interestingly, to me at least, this is the third Bowie film I've reviewed which references Kabuki theatre (Cracked Actor, The Man Who Fell to Earth being the other two).

'A Small Plot of Land', a track from the Outside album, features quite beautifully in one scene and demonstrates Bowie's versatility as an artist and the emotional clout his songs can deliver.

Basquiat is not a 'must-see' but there are moments of real beauty and strikingly good acting from Bowie so worth adding to your list.

askygoneonfire: Red and orange sunset over Hove (Default)
Cracked Actor (1975)

I wasn't originally going to include Cracked Actor in my rewatch because I was sticking to cinematic releases but then I found out there was going to be a showing at the V&A with a Q&A with Alan Yentob (the director).  I also didn't plan to go the the screening, but after a farcically bad Friday I impulse bought train tickets and screening ticket and hoped on the next train to London.

After a brief introduction from the V&As head of Adult Learning which included frequent uses of "amazing" and Alan Yentob very quickly telling us how the film came to be made, the lights went down and the film went up.

I've seen Cracked Actor before - once on YouTube a few years ago, and once on BBC1 - on Thursday night! In both previous viewings I was struck by Bowie's isolation and incoherence, I expected to experience this viewing in the same way, but something Yentob said before we began niggled; he told us that this was his second ever film, his first had been taking a "very genial actor" and making a satirical documentary about him which treated him as a Very Serious Actor and Artiste.  Yentob told us that Bowie had seen this and requested Yentob as his filmmaker.  Could it be, I wondered, that this documentary, held up as [at least part] inspiration for This Is Spinal Tap have been the original mockumentary?  Bowie has always been in control of his image and how he is represented and until now, Cracked Actor seemed a peculiar exception but what if he recognised his bizarre life, and own mental state for what it was, and gave Yentob only what he chose to?  

For the first time, Bowie's comments on the fly in his milk, and being in the back of an accelerating car, seemed both honest, coherent, and wilfully pretentious.  I'm still on the fence about the intention - and self-awareness - behind the wax museum comments, but my third viewing of Cracked Actor left me with a decidedly different impression of that time.  Remember too, that despite ingesting an enormous amount of cocaine in this period, Bowie still managed to make Diamond Dogs, Young Americans, Station to Station, and most - if not all - of Low, as well as acting so wonderfully in The Man Who Fell to Earth.  He was nothing, if not functional.

The Q&A was introduced by the 'David Bowie Is' exhibition's curator, the lucky bugger who got to physically enter David Bowie's personal archive and see all that stuff*.  We learnt from Yentob that the scene early in the film of David having a cast made of his face was something that he asked David to do.  He says that Bowie agreeing to do it showed that he trusted him and then banged on about it so much that I began to feel very uncomfortable with it - it was as though Yentob required Bowie to prostrate himself to Yentob as God/Messiah/Filmmaker before Yentob would make the film.  Given Bowie was being roundly ripped off by his manager at the time, it felt a little like Yentob was cheerfully positioning himself as yet another controlling force in Bowie's life at that time.  The fact Yentob continually called David Bowie, 'Bowie' and not 'David', as one would expect of someone who was supposedly friends with, and in a position of trust with the man for 6 months, and generally came across as an arrogant prick makes me feel very disinclined to believe he was quite so genial and passive in his filmmaking as you might imagine.

There were a number of questions from the audience that Yentob completely failed to answer, preferring instead to tell us a meandering story which allowed him to name drop some more (did you know he was good friends with Kubrick? Mick Jagger? Duncan Jones? Kate Moss? Nick Roeg? etc etc).  A few interesting facts that did emerge were that, in the scene where Bowie is singing along to Aretha Franklin in the back of the limo, the girl sitting on the floor in front of him is Coco Schwab! I was surprised, she didn't look at all like I imagined.  It also adds more fuel to my little fire of "Bowie was not as isolated or out of control as he looks" because Coco has been a constant and loyal companion with, everyone agrees, great integrity.

As many people know, Cracked Actor was to be called "The Collector" but Yentob felt by the time of release - and indeed even during filming - that Cracked Actor was more appropriate.  Interestingly, Bowie has since spoken of watching that documentary to remember a period that's a little hazy to him.  More interestingly still, Yentob suggested that Bowie was planning, during that period, to disentangle himself from manager and management company and was consciously choosing to document this period - to collect his own history and moment just as it was ending.  The very existence of the 'David Bowie Is' exhibition is evidence of Bowie's own self-archiving and the rarity of rock-umentaries at this time does lend credence to the idea that Bowie was up to something deliberate in asking for the documentary be made.

I know some people speculated on twitter on Thursday that footage of the entire concert at the Universal City Amphitheatre exists in the BBC archive, Yentob, sadly, confirmed this was not the case.  He said he went looking for it some years ago and it's either been deleted or stolen.  Hopefully, it was rescued from deletion by a light fingered Bowie-fan archive-worker and still exists out there somewhere!

I'd really like to see Cracked Actor a fourth time now, no doubt it is still available on YouTube so I will be able, but I'll give it some time to let the above reflections sink in.  If you haven't seen it, it is a fascinating film of its moment - however you feel about Bowie - and worth a watch.  If you have seen it, I'd love to know what you think about the new (to me) angles and considerations of Yentob's apparent attempts to exert control over Bowie, and Bowie's role in the film being made.



*Apparently, as well as having to have the mannequins at the exhibition hand carved because Bowie's frame was so tiny, they found the mask that Yentob got [forced] David to have made, so the mannequins all have David Bowie's actual face on, as imprinted and transferred from that mask!

 


askygoneonfire: David Bowie in profile with a hat (Bowie Man Who)
The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976)


In Breughel's Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water, and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.
 - Auden, Musee des Beaux Arts

The older I get, the more I like The Man Who Fell to Earth. I don't know if it you have to chip away at your subconscious with it, or if as I see more of life, I can make stronger connections with Thomas Jerome Newton and his feelings of dislocation, alienation, paranoia, fear, apathy...

The Man Who Fell to Earth is beautifully shot; breathtakingly so at times.  From the grey barren landscape that seems to split apart as Bowie drops his hood and we get the first flash of his ginger hair in the first scene, to the long landscapes around the shack Bowie makes his home after World Enterprises' assets are seized; there is something epic in this film which is never fully realised and I don't believe I've ever seen mentioned in reviews.

Continuity errors are rife.  The most significant of them caused by Bowie reducing the quantity of cocaine he was taking and, as a consequence, eating more than red peppers and milk which causes his weight to appear to fluctuate from scene to scene. The prosthetics for the 'alien' scenes (and aging up Mary Lou - a most hated practice in any film) are all terrible and have dated horribly but the emotions behind the story carry the film through.

I really love the scene which culminated in him turning on a wall of tvs, and progresses from delighted to overwhelmed by the cacophony of images (and I deliberately misuse cacophony) screaming "get out of my mind!".  There's so much there, in that short scene, to do with media culture and being overwhelmed and seduced, and trapped all at once and it's every bit as relevant now as it ever was.

Music makes a film.  Bowie wrote a score for the film and charged the studio a small amount to use it, which they refused to pay, so Bowie refused to let them use it and later released it/most of it/some form of it as Low.  Whenever I listen to that album I try and mentally fit it in the pieces to the film.  Sometimes I think the real score for The Man Who Fell to Earth misses the mark; it's certainly an interesting 'what if'.

Overall though? As I get older I really respect this film.  Bowie's performance is genuinely exceptional.  If you haven't, you should take the 2 and a bit hours to watch it - just don't focus on Candy Clarke's cloying performance too much.


Further reading:
Bits of trivia and links a plenty on Wikipedia
More trivia and an overview of how, when and what here.

askygoneonfire: Red and orange sunset over Hove (Default)
Yesterday I went to the V&A for the David Bowie Is exhibition.  I bought my tickets in September when the exhibition was first announced and I'm not even a little bit surprised it has given the V&A the biggest pre-sales ever.  

The second half of the exhibition was my favourite, where things were more firmly divided and there was a room dedicated to the Berlin years (including some of David Bowie original paintings!!!), a video room with 3 walls of enormous projections of live performances, and a room dedicated to Bowie's acting career - with a selection of clips running on a loop.  This included a clip from his stage performance of the critically acclaimed The Elephant Man which was really moving and makes me inclined to write to the BBC (the clip was credited to the BBC archive) and beg them to release it on DVD. (you can see the same clip here from 2:11)  There was also a clip from Bowie's first Art School-esq film which was delightful.

Everything else on the loop, except The Prestige, I've seen, multiple times.  So, I've ordered The Prestige on DVD and I'm rewatching everything else.  Starting with the first Bowie movie I ever watched; Labyrinth.

Labyrinth (1986)

The opening credits take me right back to my first ever viewing; laying on the floor of my friend's living room at a pajama party.  Being absolutely mesmerised by the (now looking very low tech CGI) flying owl and captivated from the off by the music.  Refusing to go home at 8pm, choosing instead to remain glued to the screen until the end of the film.

And then, just as we're warming to Sarah for hating babies (an impassioned position I continue to occupy to this day with a few exceptions allowed over the years for family and friend's babies) there he is, all glitter and eyeliner.  I don't remember being afraid of Jareth; he's surely the most non-threatening of baddies.  More accurately I remember being then, as now, mesmerised.  The crystal manipulation (famously done by a man standing behind Bowie with his arms under Bowie's armpits) remains a delightful trick and, as with many Henson productions, maintains its magic years later thanks to the simplicity of the visual.

Like so many family films of the 80s, there's a lot of cheeky stuff and more than a few lines that would be considered inappropriate - if only because of use of words they just don't allow anymore (see also: Back to the Future and the use of 'shit')  I like that the DVD copy has decent enough audio that the you can understand some of what the goblins who turn over the stones in the maze, things like "You're mother is a fragging aardvark!" always make me laugh.  Concluding with some cracking crotch shots, the beautiful Escher room scene (which involved some crazy ass harnesses for walking around 180 degrees which can be viewing in making of documentaries, if your copy is so endowed) and, of course, the soundtrack there is so much to love about Labyrinth.

There's a lot in Labyrinth I've more or less been chasing since I first saw it; a Ludo to call my own, a flamboyant and gorgeous wardrobe, David Bowie promising to be my slave if I love him and fear him.....usual stuff.  I also admitted to the friend (who wasn't a Bowie fan) who I went to the V&A with yesterday that I've been waiting for 4 years for someone to have a fancy dress party so I can go as Jareth; I think perhaps my 29th birthday this year might be the moment if a fancy dress party doesn't happen before then.

Like many of my peers, Labyrinth is a seminal film for me and continues to be in the hard repeat section of my DVD collection; again, as with many of my peers it even taught me a few things - the meaning of oubliette was recently a BBC quiz show answer which caused twitter to erupt in Labyrinth triumph.  I recently bought The Complete David Bowie by Nicholas Pegg which laments Labyrinth as a joke in an otherwise faultless career, which alienated fans at the time.  What Pegg neglects to consider is how many people, like me, grew up with Labyrinth and came to Bowie, if only partially*, through it.



*My first Bowie memory is around age 5 or 6, playing with my brother's hand-me-down 70s space station Lego, singing "Ground control to Major Tom, commencing countdown, engines on, check ignition....."  Obviously my first Bowie experience was much before then as I'd learnt the lyrics to Space Oddity, but yeah, he get's stuck in your head doesn't he? He's been in my head my whole life.  How wonderful.

askygoneonfire: Red and orange sunset over Hove (Default)
Yesterday, finally, my copy of David Bowie's The Next Day arrived.  I've been avoiding reading reviews as I hate to have my first listen tainted by reviews when I plan to buy an album no matter what (naturally, reviews can provide me the reason to purchase an album which is an entirely different dynamic).

I set aside time today and listened to it twice through, back to back.  In brief, I think the second half is stronger and up until Where are We Now? came on I would characterise my response to the tracks to have been cautiously disappointed.

I'm not going to review the album in full though, there are plenty of better qualified and more thoughtful sources for that out there.  What I want to talk about is what I heard in that album.

With almost every track, I heard an echo of an earlier track or album.  Where Are We Now? had reminded me of Heathen and Reality from the first listen so I was expecting more of that, instead, The Next Day is more eclectic though and Bowie's voice, influence, and lyrical content seems a vignette of a past him.  

This is Bowie, clearly he doesn't do anything accidentally, but can he produce something original any more?  Could he, if he chose, pull out a new Bowie from the bag - not this newest Bowie incarnation - the old man looking back on himself -?  Year on year I find my own creativity waning.  I try and console myself that my PhD study is itself an act of creativity - thinking new thoughts, making new connections.  But the kind of bold creativity that comes with naivety and youth?  That's more elusive.

Confronted with a pile of lego what would you make? What would you do with what you made? I think I could still knock out a house, car, space station, but creating a story for it? Beyond me.  The art of play - we broadly accept we lose it, I think, but is resignation the right response?  I understand story tellers, actors, sculptors, they retain it, but even then its constrained, within boundaries and frameworks of intelligibility.  They can still access it though, more than I can.  Is that imagination or practice?  

There's a certain loneliness to having a bounded internal world, one that doesn't take a leap to a new landscape when prompted.  Is there a key to be found to reopen that door or is a muscle that wastes from under-use?
 
askygoneonfire: Red and orange sunset over Hove (Default)
 I'm currently going through a Bowie phase so intense it is only rivalled by a three month period in 2005 in which I ate only beans on toast and ryvita and listened only to Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.

I've been scavenging the net, and newly bought 'Starman: David Bowie - The Definitive Biography' for all the ins and outs I need.  I am a big believer in finding the music of an artist before you read up on the mythology and political wrangling that brought them to the fore because it can have such a dramatic impact on your relationship with the music.  This impact isn't always negative (just last year Nailed to History: The Story of the Manic Street Preachers prompted in me a new openness to the Manics commercially disastrous Know Your Enemy) but it can be and I think the immediacy of music in coming through your stereo in a closed room is something that should not be compromised by critical analysis in the first case.

I am struck by the similarity in the story of Bowie's rise to fame with the Manics upward trajectory; from letter writing campaigns, to form coming before substance as they both proclaimed themselves to be - not the next big thing - but the big thing.  I find it fascinating that whilst it takes time - both Bowie and the Manics taking several years from inception to record deal to mainstream recognition - pure, unwavering self belief, self aggrandizement and ruthless ambition is truly the best policy.

As far as my own relationship with Bowie and the Manics goes I think the similarities in their stories are striking; from modest backgrounds, determined to not just transcend those roots but to realise their individual love affairs with rock n roll in it's most idealised form.  Glam rock - 'high glam' as Bowie apparently termed it once, given it was primarily a conceptual statement - of this ilk is borne out of frustration and ambition, and as such is much more seductive than any other music genre I have encountered; perhaps the reason I am only obsessive over these two acts has more than a little to do with that.  Yes, in my youth I donned the uniform of baggy jeans and jumpers for Sterophonics, Coldplay, Travis, Mull Historical Society, Embrace, and Easyworld gigs, but the defining and enduring relationship has and always will be with the glam of the Manics and David Bowie.

Such preening, extroversion, and posturing are at odds with my own natural state.  At my core I am an introvert - and I'm ok with that - but somehow Bowie and, to a greater degree given their continued live presence, the Manics, provide a safe framework within which something in me cuts loose and I am free - eyes blackened with eyeliner, hair glossed and often dyed, short skirts, 'DIY aesthetic', pressed to the front of the stage calling out lyrics with all the simultaneous seriousness and irony required of a good Manics fan.  

Bowie's honest/dishonest declarations on his sexuality and wilful visual confrontation provided me with a much needed touchstone for queer identity when I was a teenager living in a world stripped of any alternative influences or role models.  That his purported bisexuality may have been nothing more than a calculated technique to court publicity is, to me, irrelevant - it provided me an image and a route into a world I inhabit now.

It struck me as ironic when I was watching a late night repeat of Radiohead at Glastonbury in 1997 and the crowd sang to 'Creep', that a song about isolation and alienation could unite so many people without any apparent hypocrisy for them.  That is the remarkable thing about music - it starts off purporting to be about alienation, outsiders and otherness and creates, as it gains momentum, an entire sub culture -membership of which depends on correctly enacting that same 'otherness'.  I do wonder at what point it stops being true - how many of those people repeating the lyrics of Creep like a mantra have any connection to the content? When does belonging obscure identification?

I think that, almost uniquely, glam does have an honesty in its performance because it is founded on artifice.  The whole intention is to create a new reality which stands both in parallel to, and above, the norm.  Followers of glam, recreating themselves to attend gigs, are aping their idols in every respect - stripping it off to go back to work on Monday is in keeping with the artifice.  Many people speak of coming to glam through one defining realisation after a single spectacle - for many with David Bowie I understand it was his 1972 performance of Starman on Top of the Pops that changed their relationship with fashion, sub culture and music.  When that is the case, when one moment draws you in, and you can dress yourself in that moment, I propose that you are recreating the moment of epiphany.  A genre which makes you see the world differently in one move can, therefore, offer you revelation every time you dress.  And you can dress a hundred times, a hundred different ways.

Bowie recognised that - that's why he was able to reinvent himself so many times and why the Manics duplicated so many of his statements (from replicating a certain image in You Love Us (Heavenly Version) from Bowie's Boys Keep Swinging amongst many, many other visual statements).  It's a vocabulary of outrage, confrontation, statement and, above all, freedom.

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askygoneonfire: Red and orange sunset over Hove (Default)
a sky gone on fire

August 2017

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