Directed by: Brett Morgen
Premise: A documentary about David Bowie. Presented as an extended montage, the film explores David Bowie’s career and his evolution as an artist.
What Works: In the midst of the many music documentaries being produced at the moment, filmmaker Brett Morgen has distinguished himself with an unusual approach. The Kid Stays in the Picture and Cobain: Montage of Heck were less interested in laying out a narrative biography and more invested in creating an intimate portrait of their subject and seeing the world from that person’s perspective. Morgen brings a similar approach to Moonage Daydream but with an even more ambitious style. The documentary explores the work of David Bowie, with an emphasis on the 1970s and 80s, and the way Bowie was influenced by the culture around him, namely developments in fashion and visual arts as well as philosophy and politics. Moonage Daydream plays as an extended montage. Most of the footage is assembled chronologically which gives Moonage Daydream a discernable shape but the film doesn’t use narration or talking head testimonies. The closest this film comes to traditional biographical filmmaking is the use of archival interview clips in which Bowie is interrogated about his work. This approach suits Bowie whose body of work drew from plenty of nonmusical sources and the film creates a web of cultural connections with Bowie at the center of it. It’s really a depiction of an artist and how he interacted with the world, internalizing what was happening and then creating work that reflected his understanding of it. This documentary visualizes that process. The assembly of Moonage Daydream is incredible. The film combines footage of both public and private moments and uses music effectively, choosing sections or fragments of songs and setting them against images in a way that enhances the meaning.
What Doesn’t: Moonage Daydream is less about conveying facts and timelines of David Bowie’s life and more about creating an impression of his work and getting a feel for his perspective. Moonage Daydream’s unusual style is what makes it such a novel piece of filmmaking but that style also limits the documentary’s appeal. Viewers who are not familiar with David Bowie’s life and work may be a bit lost and would benefit from learning a little about his biography before viewing this film.
Disc extras: Trailer.
Bottom Line: Moonage Daydream brings a fresh approach to the music documentary. This is technically masterful filmmaking and it is worth watching multiple times in part because it is so visually mesmerizing but also because it’s so dense. Subsequent viewings offer opportunities to discover new connections and implications. This is one of the most unusual and one of the best documentaries of its kind.
Episode: #933 (January 1, 2023)