The Watchers

The Watchers

Sunday, 17 January 2016

David Bowie (1947-2016)

News of the death of David Bowie, who passed away earlier this week just two days after his 68th birthday, came as a huge shock - not least because, just last week, he released his twenty-fifth studio album Darkstar.

From the glorious glam rock genderbending of Ziggy Stardust, through the Berlin trilogy with Brian Eno, to his collaborations with Placebo, Queen and the Pet Shop Boys, Bowie continually reinvented himself and his musical style. Iconic songs such as 'Heroes', 'Changes', 'Starman', 'Space Oddity', 'Life On Mars' and 'Let's Dance' shifted the cultural landscape of the UK and his music has been used in such diverse projects as Moulin Rouge!, Sixteen Candles, Se7en, The Wedding Singer, Dogville, The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou and The Kids Are All Right

Although Bowie had an illustrious music career, he also had an interesting and diverse film career. As this is a film blog, the focus of this tribute will primarily be his film work.

Bowie made his film debut as the eponymous character in Nicolas Roeg's The Man Who Fell To Earth (1976). As the humanoid alien Thomas Jerome Newton, who comes to Earth looking for water as his home planet is undergoing a severe drought, Bowie is an arresting presence as he negotiates the venality and greed of the world (despite later admitting that he was heavily abusing cocaine throughout the filming). On its initial release, the film met mixed reviews- with Roger Ebert calling it 'preposterous and posturing'-  but has since gone on to be considered a cult classic. Bowie won the Saturn Award for Best Actor for his performance.

In a re-released version of perennial Christmas favourite The Snowman, Bowie appears as the adult James who narrates his adventure with the snowman. He then went on to appear opposite Catherine Deneuve and Susan Sarandon in Tony Scott's vampire fantasy romance The Hunger as the lover of Catherine Deneuve's character. He also gives an acclaimed performance as Major Jack Celliers in the World War II prisoner-of-war movie Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence.

He was offered, but declined, the role of Max Zorin in A View To A Kill (which instead went to Christopher Walken). He was considered for the role of Sharaz Jek in the Doctor Who story The Caves Of Androzani but the filming dates clashed with his Serious Moonlight tour. In 1986, Bowie appeared as Vendice Partners in Absolute Beginners, a musical drama about 1950s London (for which he also provided the title song, and sang 'That's Motivation' and 'Volare'). Whilst the film screened out of competition in the 1986 Cannes Film Festival, it was panned by the critics and was a box office flop (making less than a million dollars in the US and only making £1.8 million against a budget of over £8 million in the UK).

However, Bowie appeared in another film in 1986 that has gone on to be one of the most beloved movies of the 1980s: Labyrinth. His performance as Jareth the Goblin King will probably be the film role that Bowie is most remembered for (not least because of the impressive codpiece). He's a strangely sensual villain, charismatic yet sinister. He also recorded five songs for the film's soundtrack including the earwormy 'Magic Dance' and 'As The World Falls Down'. Yet, like many of the films Bowie was involved with, this too had mixed reviews on first release and lost money at the box office- thus being considered a commercial failure- but has since been re-evaluated and lauded as a cult movie. 

After Labyrinth, Bowie appeared as Pontius Pilate in Martin Scorsese's controversial The Last Temptation Of Christ and appeared in the film prequel Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me as Philip Jeffries. In 1996, he appeared as Andy Warhol in the biopic of American painter Jean-Michel Basquiat (Warhol acted as Basquiat's friend and mentor). He made a well-received cameo as himself in Zoolander and provided the voice of Maltazard the Wizard in the English-language version of Arthur And The Invisibles. He also appeared as Nikola Tesla in The Prestige.

There really is no other word to describe David Bowie than icon. A true cultural icon. The world is a darker place for his passing.

for The Watchers

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