When they are the main subject, all documentaries about well-known musicians or bands tend to follow the same pattern. You will learn about the start of their profession, the difficulties they faced, and several interviews with people who have been active in the field. Sometimes they can certainly intrigue, while others, especially in the past decade for the young demographic, get ignored for a reason. The best part? They make you want to listen to their music at the end of the day. That’s what I thought Moonage Daydream was going to be, but what I didn’t know what that I was about to experience a trip through the life of one of the greatest artists ever to live.
Premiering this past summer at the Cannes Film Festival with all-around praise, this was immediately on my radar the minute I heard about it. Of course, I’m a fan of David Bowie (born David Jones). But, do I know every one of his songs? I’m still catching up through dozens of his albums, and he’s been an artist I’ve been listening to more after his tragic passing in January 2016 from cancer, just two days after his 69th birthday. He’s always been the rock star you would expect he’s not from this planet; his change of personas through each era shows that men and women have loved him for decades. Though it would be impossible to do a traditional biopic on the man, Moonage Daydream had other plans.
Director Brett Morgen (also the writer, producer, and editor) is a documentarian no stranger to putting his style of filmmaking with different films in The Kid Stays in the Picture about producer Robert Evans and music-centered docs about legends Kurt Cobain (Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck) and The Rolling Stones (Crossfire Hurricane). He had worked on his latest for the past five years, which included surviving a heart attack linked to stress. And this is the first movie where Bowie’s estate officially allowed him to use so much previously unreleased footage from his archives to make this come to life. What he delivered is a non-stop musical montage through time that you can’t look away from in all directions. I would actually hesitate to call it a straightforward documentary when this doesn’t go about having selective interviews or detailing back to his childhood since it plays out as a visual memoir with Bowie’s narration throughout. At first, I was worried since it would’ve gone stale after a while, but it kept my attention. The way it brilliantly edited the material culminated into this piece from footage of Bowie in some of his movies (could’ve used over two clips from Labyrinth), his beautiful drawings and paintings, and concert footage blending into what made him a whole chameleon.
All I was thinking was how have we never seen this footage in public before? We get to know the person through this large, trippy, kaleidoscope visual treat that makes you feel like you’re in a planetarium, along with going through the different phases of his life that feel like you’re inside his crazed mind. As a man who wants to spend his life on this planet living his life the best way he can and a means for us to do the same: not wasting a single moment. It’s definitely a film that’s the right fit for IMAX, just like when I saw Muse: Simulation Theory a couple of years back. You’re in for a sound and vision ride that’ll get you into his music louder than ever before. Also, the live concert footage they restored looked so crisp on the big screen that made me want to transport myself to the early 70s in his Ziggy Stardust phase. The best moment I take away from where the entire theater was erupting when he was performing “Hallo Spaceboy.” I felt it early on with a seamless transition from “Wild Eyed Boy from Freecoud” to “All the Young Dudes.” It’s a shame they didn’t play “Fame,” but I knew I’ll have “Ashes to Ashes” in my head the minute they played it.
Can it be overwhelming throughout? Some will certainly feel that way as it takes a lot to take into a runtime of 134 minutes. Even for me, I remembered leaving the theater pretty tired, and it can feel slightly too long, especially since the last half feels a little repetitive with some footage we’ve already seen in the first hour. And did it talk about everything regarding his life? Not everything, like they mentioned Tin Machine or skipping his first marriage or his children. Inman was mentioned, though.
That said, even when I didn’t love it, Morgen gave longtime fans what they deserved. This is the only movie focusing on Bowie I wouldn’t mind getting because you can’t picture anybody portraying him. The closest for a movie loosely based on him was Velvet Goldmine and an unauthorized biopic called Stardust that got swept under the rug since his estate didn’t approve of his music. If this is playing near you this weekend, I recommend you seek it out.
Moonage Daydream is the perfect immersive experience for David Bowie fans. So much to take in, but it’s an unconventional documentary that shines a light on his career while being a gorgeously transcendent odyssey through the visuals and soundtrack.
Moonage Daydream is now playing in select IMAX theaters and will get a wide release on September 23. Runtime: 134 Minutes. Rated PG-13 for some sexual images/nudity, brief strong language and smoking. Studio: Neon.