NOW ON HBO MAX! I went into Moonage Daydream with high expectations. I saw this documentary about David Bowie by Brett Morgen (director of the award-winning Jane), sanctioned by the late singer’s estate, in the original IMAX venue, the Ontario Place Cinesphere. Sadly, I was let down. It has its moments, but in the end, it is a mess. It’s long, repetitive, meandering, faux experimental, and, worst of all, boring.
First, the good parts: writer-director Morgen isn’t trying to make a straightforward documentary. Instead, he’s going for more of a “Bowie in his own words” / Bowie in concert vibe. The parts where Bowie is singing are, as you’d expect, a master entertainer presented as he intended to show himself throughout various phases of his career. Many of his thoughts on life or his work are insightful and engaging. He’s a monumental artist and public figure of the 20th and 21st centuries. Bowie was pioneering in crossing gender lines in a time when people were more hostile to it. He’s an elusive figure, nearly impossible to pin down because he was constantly in flux, continually reinventing himself. There is a certain sublime quality to seeing the extraordinarily weird contradiction of the look-at-me rock star presented in his terms as a shy introvert searching for himself.
“…the look-at-me rock star presented in his terms as a shy introvert searching for himself.”
The doc falls short when it comes to most other aspects, though. One reason Moonage Daydream is so tedious is that the core of Bowie is change. This mantra is repeated over and over again. Sure, you can document the Ziggy Stardust era, the time he lived in Southeast Asia, his 80s life, and his marriage. But all these are only a fragment of something ever-changing and elusive. There’s no real narrative; kudos to the filmmaker for not trying to force one. But the result is that all we get are glimpses stitched together by constant talk of change, which becomes repetitive.
Part of the problem is that the film is trying too hard. It seems like it wants to be “experimental,” like the subject. Mostly this amounts to splicing in rapid-paced weird-looking visuals to spice things up. But this never works because it is mostly images devoid of context, with an over-reliance on material in the public domain. It seems like it might be going for an acid feel but seems almost too frightening for a trip. Even Bowie himself went away from overtly trippy iconography, so this feels like a throwback, which is antithetical to the man’s ethos.
"…the core of Bowie is change."