Reviewed for Film Factual by Abe Friedtanzer
Director: Brett Morgen
Writer: Brett Morgen
Screened at: FYC screener, LA, 12/15/22
Opens: September 16th, 2022
Documentaries about musicians can take on many forms. Long after a subject has passed away, it can be a retrospective of their greatest hits and a deep look into hidden aspects of their personal or professional life. It can also include interviews with those who knew the artist best, met them once or twice, or were influenced by them on their own musical paths. Or it can take the form of something else entirely, as Moonage Daydream does, charting the legacy of David Bowie in a manner that feels utterly unique and perfectly suited to his creative nature.
Moonage Daydream, which is the title of a 1972 Bowie song, is many things at once. It features a staggering amount of footage of the artist himself, from concerts and other moments in his life, and is structured in a way that doesn’t feel like a typical documentary. There is a rhythm to it that is decidedly offbeat, not broken up by explanatory pauses or transitions but instead mimicking the flow of a concert, one which might have one song lead to another without warning or introduction, guided by the spirit of a performer whose brand could best be described as going against the grain.
This documentary, which has been shortlisted for both Best Documentary Feature and Best Sound ahead of this year’s Oscars, will surely be a dream for Bowie fans who treasure any opportunity to get to spend two hours and fifteen minutes seeing him come alive. For those less familiar beyond his name and some of his legacy, this film is the best thing next to seeing him in person since it’s him being himself in front of an audience and at times in more intimate settings. It’s the ultimate Bowie crash course, but one that’s deeply experiential rather than traditional.
By the time that interviews with Bowie do start to be featured, this film has already firmly established itself as something off-kilter, so firmly enmeshed in being with Bowie and presenting his life through less standard methods, that it feels like those are supplemental instead of foundational, as they might be if they were building towards a climactic performance. There is a linear component to whatever structure this film purposely lacks, charting his transformation from his early prominence to living in Berlin and then the last few years of his life.
Audiences who have enjoyed recent music documentaries like Summer of Soul and The Velvet Underground will appreciate this film’s style, one that dives fully into being in the presence of its subject with explosive and dizzying colors and visuals. There is no clear thesis about Bowie but rather a commitment to showcase him and different highlights of his life, yet in a way that doesn’t expressly note or mark what those are, presenting them in between other less worthwhile or impactful moments since that’s just when they happened. Even if a viewer doesn’t have a particular connection to Bowie or his music, this film takes a creative and immersive approach that makes it hard to resist at least part of his appeal or his unique artistic vision.
Story – B
Technical – B+
Overall – B