Since his death at the beginning of 2016, David Bowie has been my favourite artist of all time. Nobody I have listened to has such an eclectic and prolific catalogue, with music ranging from upbeat glam rock jams to dark and experimental concept albums. Therefore, this review comes from a place of fandom and predisposed fascination with his life and history. Brett Morgen’s Moonage Daydream is a maximalist collage of concert and interview footage spliced with artwork from Bowie’s archive alongside snippets of the media and art which inspired him.
The film takes you through Bowie’s life from his newfound success in 1972 up until his death. It focuses upon distinct periods of his career such as his iconic and glamorous Ziggy Stardust rockstar persona as well as his dark and experimental years spent in Berlin. The film’s colour palette is loud and psychedelic, the editing is frenetic, and a massive amount of diverse imagery and footage is launched at the viewer. This stylish delivery of Bowie concerts and interviews keeps the film engaging and refreshing in comparison to your typical music documentary. Gone are the tedious talking head segments and stuffy narration of previous documentaries on the subject matter. What has been replaced is a visually wonderful and highly entertaining presentation of personal recordings that humanise an often larger-than-life character.
Despite its vivid depiction of an already fascinating person and a multitude of great music behind it, the film can, at times, seem overly indulgent and is generally far too long for the general audience. Unless you are a die-hard Bowie-fan, the 140-minute run time is going to take its toll on your engagement and enjoyment. There are only so many of Bowie’s philosophical monologues one can take and as the film starts to cover his later life it does lose focus and drags slightly with its ending chunk. There will be many who will start to feel exhausted by the film’s back and forth between hyperactive editing, obnoxious sound effects over live performances, and Bowie’s lengthy introspective musings. I find myself wondering who exactly the audience for this film is.
Possibly too long and unnecessarily in-depth for your average viewer, at first this film feels like it is made for those who are already very familiar with Bowie’s history. However, even Bowie fans could easily be disappointed by the film’s limited (yet carefully considered) song selection and the omission of certain dark yet important details such as his drug addiction.
That being said, I think Moonage Daydream is at worst a visual spectacle and eye-opening deep dive into one of music’s most complex and multifaceted characters and at best a documentary epic that lovingly pays tribute to the artistic career of David Bowie, presenting the intimate and emotional character study of the real man behind every persona. Morgen’s film is not perfect but it feels like the essence of Bowie captured in a film. With its vast variety of moods, styles, and modes of artistic expression, Moonage Daydream effectively follows the Bowie ethos and creates something deeply emotive and life-affirming.