DAVID BOWIE IS… (2014)
Featuring David Bowie, Hamish Hamilton, Katy Mullan, Jonathan Barnbrook, Michael Clark, Jarvis Cocker, Nicholas Coleridge, Jeremy Deller, Christopher Frayling, Hanif Kureishi, Paul Morley, Terry O’Neill, Iain Webb and Kamsai Yamamoto.
Written by Philip Kerr.
Directed by Hamish Hamilton and Katy Mullan.
Distributed by Omniverse Vision. 94 minutes. Not Rated.
David Bowie is a chameleon, and always has been.
This documentary takes on the not quite simple task of trying to explain this obstinately diverse artist – musician, actor, artist, dancer, fashion icon, renaissance man, style icon – and tries to explain him in a little over an hour and a half.
David Bowie has been creating his art for almost 50 years and I don’t think even he could achieve that. And, I would hazard to guess, that he is quite content about that fact.
David Bowie Is… is actually – quite literally – a museum exhibit as film.
In fact, it is a documentation of a massive recent exhibition at the historic Victoria & Albert Museum in London, known (at least according to their own website) as the “world’s greatest museum of art and design.” And in fairness, the museum is gorgeous and obviously great care and attention was lavished on this exhibit. It ran at the V&A last year, before leaving to tour the world. It’s currently just opening a long run in Chicago.
Unfortunately for the film, Bowie himself did not cooperate, at least in terms of new interview footage – all of the film footage that is here, though much of it fascinating, is vintage.
However, if he was not there to cooperate with the film, he most certainly did his best to do all he could for the exhibit, releasing thousands of important and rare items from his archives ranging throughout his long, historic career.
This is where the film is most fascinating, showing bits and pieces from all eras of Bowie’s life and career: from baby photos to old costumes to video storyboards to handwritten lyrics.
While the guest speakers are all rather obscure (Jarvis Cocker, lead singer of the band Pulp, is the only one I had heard of previously) and none of them have anything all that groundbreaking to say about Bowie, they do give a nice feeling of what it is like to work with or around the man.
However, the truth is, while David Bowie Is… is an interesting documentary look at an artistic chameleon, the real main thing it achieves is to make you wish that you had seen the museum exhibit.
Jay S. Jacobs