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MOONAGE DAYDREAM movie review

ByTaylor T Carlson

Sep 25, 2022

MOONAGE DAYDREAM is directed by Brett Morgen. It’s the first film to be fully authorized by David Bowie’s estate.

In the 1970s, David Bowie came on the world stage. Looking like something from another world, it was hard to ignore the young rocker, his glam rock sound, and perhaps even more startlingly, his eccentric image. Bowie recorded relentlessly until his death in early 2016, and in that time, dabbled in other art forms which included creating paintings, and even acting in films and plays. Even many years after his death, Mr. Bowie is still regarded as one of the entertainment world’s most polarizing figures and greatest innovators.

What exactly is MOONAGE DAYDREAM? Is it a documentary on the life of David Bowie? Is it a live concert film? Is it an art film? Even director Brett Morgen doesn’t quite seem to know, as the movie simultaneously wants to push in all three directions. The film delves deep and shows off some impressive archival footage from Bowie in all his various activities throughout his life. No one can argue with the quality of the footage, but MOONAGE DAYDREAM as a film is every bit as wild, experimental, and eccentric as David Bowie himself. That’s simultaneously the production’s greatest strength and weakness.

Where I will give MOONAGE DAYDREAM the most credit is the sheer amount of footage utilized. From rare photographs of Bowie as a young boy to clips of him on stage, on holiday, and producing works of art that aren’t limited to music, it’s clear Morgen had access to a treasure trove of material, much of it largely unseen by the public prior to this production. The film shines brightest when it shows off all sides of Bowie, including the ones many more casual fans likely didn’t know existed; showcases of paintings he did were one of the biggest surprises in this regard.

As the film was made with the full cooperation of Bowie’s estate, it’s good to see his music is intact here, and lots of it too! Few musical artists had as diverse a musical sound as Mr. Bowie, and much of it is shown off here (to give you an idea of this, the official soundtrack consists of 45 tracks!) I was so pleased to see this wasn’t a rush job or some unauthorized production that used generic stock music. Fans of Bowie’s music will hear plenty of it, from start to finish. I even heard several songs I wasn’t familiar with; something I welcome as it opens doors to eras of a performer I might not have known about.

Unfortunately, as much as I wanted to love MOONAGE DAYDREAM, it does come up short in many areas. While the movie is being marketed (at least in part) as a documentary, this isn’t an accurate description. There is no newly recorded interview footage (filmed or voiceover) with anyone; Morgen relies on the stock footage and vintage voiceovers to tell the story. While an innovative technique, new or more casual fans expecting a “Point A to Point B” approach to Bowie that lists his discography, band members, film appearances, and landmark achievements in order as they happened won’t find that here (but then, “Point A to Point B” was never exactly Mr. Bowie’s style). One major failure here is the lack of subtitles/on-screen captions to introduce guests/fellow musicians/interviewers/etc. who crossed paths with our androgynous hero; Mick Ronson is entitled to more than just his name being listed in the credits. Even some elements of the footage are reused a few times in the doc, which feels distracting and like it’s being used to drag out an already too-long film.

While MOONAGE DAYDREAM flows seamlessly thanks to its editing and quality footage, it seems to focus too much on certain elements and not enough on others. Bowie as a painter is depicted quiet frequently, perhaps too much and too often, while his marriage to Iman is limited to one all-too-short sequence. I applaud Morgen for his unconventional filmmaking technique, creating something that shows off many interesting escapades and moments from Bowie’s wild life, but this unfortunately has the side effect of making the project frustratingly inaccessible for more casual and new fans. Even as a fairly knowledgeable fan of Bowie who loved getting access to the content featured here, I found myself frustrated at the movie’s lack of structure. Knowing what you’re getting coming in is a must; those expecting a conventional documentary should check their expectations at the door.

MOONAGE DAYDREAM is an ambitious look into David Bowie’s life several years in the making, spanning the career of one of the music industry’s most ambitious individuals. The footage and music assembled is fantastic, showing off much of Bowie’s existence and sides of him many fans didn’t even know existed. But it lacks structure and doesn’t know what kind of film it wants to be. Rock docs should be informative and great entry points for potential new fans, but MOONAGE DAYDREAM has more in common with art films and feels like it was only made for the established die-hard fanbase. While not without its merits, it’s not what people are going to be expecting, for better and worse alike. Modestly recommended, but it’s die-hard Bowie fans who’ll get the most out of it.

By Taylor T Carlson

Taylor T Carlson Assistant Editor/Senior Staff Writer Taylor T. Carlson was born August 17, 1984, and has called the Vegas Valley home his entire life. A die-hard fan of classic rock and metal music, Taylor has been writing album and concert reviews since he was 16 years old, and continues to do so, having done well over 1,000 reviews. He is also a fan of video gaming and cinema, and has reviewed a number of games and films as well, old and new alike. His thorough and honest (some would say brutally honest) reviewing style has won him the respect of hundreds of music fans and musicians alike, both local and abroad, and the ire of just as many others. Despite being one of the youngest attendees at classic hard rock/metal shows around Vegas, he is also one of the most knowledgeable, having gained the unofficial nickname of “The Eddie Trunk of Las Vegas.” In addition to reviews, Taylor has written and self-published three books on classic hard rock bands, and is a regular participant in rock and roll trivia contests. Taylor also holds a masters degree in special education from the University of Nevada Las Vegas (UNLV), and has appeared on the hit History Channel television series Pawn Stars. His dream is to be able to one day make a living from writing music books and reviews.

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