“Commencing countdown, engines on“. It begins, like the film, with the famous words of Space Oddity la Stardust review, the expected film by Gabriel Range about David Bowie which was presented at the Rome Film Fest in 2020. The film, due to the pandemic and the closure of theaters, has never been released in cinemas in Italy, and has somewhat disappeared from the radar, also due to the somewhat cold reception that had been accorded him. You can find it in streaming for hire on iTunes. And, while it’s not a completely successful film, it does have something interesting: it shows us a Bowie – who if he were alive today, January 8, would have turned 75 – before the hit. That song, Space Oddity, we don’t hear it. As you know, Bowie’s heirs denied the rights to the songs, evidently not convinced by the film. Instead of feeling Space Oddity we see images that evoke 2001: A Space Odyssey by Kubrick, which is the film that inspired Bowie’s song. Stardust reconstructs a very particular Bowie moment. His record has just been released The Man Who Sold The World and the artist is about to leave for his first American tour. But David Jones isn’t David Bowie yet, he doesn’t know who he is yet. Stardust it’s an origin story, like the ones we’ve seen in so many superhero movies. Bowie, as far as the art world is concerned, really was a superhero. And, as in any self-respecting origin story, here he is still not fully aware of his superpowers. As often happens in films of this type, the reconstruction of the historical period and the atmosphere have been successful and very interesting. But as often happens, after all, Stardust really fails to capture the soul of the artist he tells. Let’s see why.
The plot: Once upon a time in America
1971: David Bowie’s (Johnny Flynn) new record has just been released, The Man Who Sold The World. The single, All The Madmen, it didn’t do well in America at all, and so the album is not doing well either. IS “too dark and too strange for Americans“, is “sad, depressed and confused“Out of 12 singles, Bowie has so far only scored two hits: Space Oddity e The Laughing Gnome. And then, together with his manager, he decides to go on a tour in the United States, in order to make Americans understand who David Bowie really is. Accompanying him will be Rob Oberman (Marc Maron), Mercury press office. But due to problems with his visa, he will not be able to actually do concerts. He will be able to talk about himself, yes, and perform in private parties. He will be able to give interviews, with the chimera of the cover of Rolling Stone. But, while he is around the States, Bowie comes to mind a series of suggestions, he realizes that he must present himself with a strong character. and from here his most famous alter ego will come to life in 1972, Ziggy Stardust.
Stardust: David Bowie relives in the first clip of the biopic with Johnny Flynn
Origin Story, ma…
Gabriel Range’s Stardust, as we told you, is an origin story. And it is clear that the Hero has not yet been born here, his superpowers have not exploded, his image is not yet fully in focus. The film, then, presents us with a person in full training. There could also be the fact that the protagonist is insecure. But the Bowie we see on the big screen is awkward, distracted, never on track. The one before Ziggy Stardust is a little documented Bowie, and leaves room for some interpretation. But, from what we know, he was always a very determined artist. In any case, assuming that the first Bowie was really like that, if you make a film about him today you can’t help but consider what he would become: a world rock star, one of the greatest artists in rock music and beyond. You can’t help but deal with the perception that, yesterday and today, the public has had and still has of him. And you can’t, the moment you draw him back, not throw the seed of what he would become into him. And end up making it the opposite of what it is. Without taking away the fact that he is represented as an excessively feminine character, in the classic sense in which a character of this genre is presented, which Bowie was not. He created characters with fluid sexuality, he played with ambiguity, but he was not effeminate. Continue to linger on almost feminine clothes (like the one she wore on the cover of The Man Who Sold The World, but given excessive space) on heels, means stylizing Bowie, pigeonholing him, and not really doing that complex character that he was.
Johnny Flynn can’t make us believe he’s Bowie
And then Stardust wrong choice of protagonist. Johnny Flynn he is a strong man, big nose, full lips. His features are very different from Bowie’s, which were angular, narrow nose, thin lips. The long hair and long dress of the cover of The Man Who Sold The World (“Una Lauren Bacall?” “Plus a modern Garbo“, we hear in the film) the image of his Bowie works in long shot. But in the close-ups it doesn’t: we never believe we are watching Bowie. Sure, the White Duke on screen really seems unrepresentable. Yet there have been miracles that they have. made sure that some actors really became the stars they played, above all Val Kilmer’s Jim Morrison in The Doors and Sam Riley’s Ian Curtis in Control. . At this point, also considering that the film is inspired by a certain period of Bowie, the choice of Todd Haynes with Velvet Goldmine, that is to create a character inspired by Bowie, like Brian Slade, but strongly evocative. Jonathan Rhys Meyers, in this case, was not looking for similarity, nor for philology in costumes. But, as he built the character, he immediately evoked Ziggy Stardust’s Bowie, creating not only a vivid portrait of an artist, but managing to evoke a world and an era.
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Velvet Goldmine, confrontation is inevitable
The comparison with Velvet Goldmine is something that cannot be escaped. Although not explicitly a film about Bowie, Todd Haynes’ film manages to best tell what was a period of the artist, among other things the one that comes immediately after the one told in Stardust. Todd Haynes also did not have the rights to Bowie’s songs (probably for another reason, as the artist planned to make his own film about Ziggy Stardust). But Haynes managed to create an exceptional musical world, including music from T-Rex, Roxy Music and the Stooges of Iggy Pop. Here are some Jacques Brel songs and little else, which don’t add much to the film, on the contrary they create an alienating effect. It was the same with the Jimi Hendrix movie, Jimi: All Is By My Side, with which Stardust has in common an unflattering and somewhat empty portrait of the artist (to be honest in that movie Hendrix came out even worse than Bowie did here).
What follows is (almost) all fake
But it is precisely the dramaturgical construction that does not work here. We see a character, the protagonist, try and try again, and continually bump into the wall, without any narrative progression, without any growth. To then have a catharsis, and re-emerge with the character of Ziggy Stardust, as we have known him. The costumes are hers: but not even here the leading actor is credible. And those wigs, on Ziggy’s head as well as on Mick Ronson’s, are even less so. Ziggy’s birth happens a bit like a bolt from the blue. Not to mention that, in between, there was Hunky Dory, certainly not a worthless record. “What follows is (almost) all fake“writes Range at the beginning of his film. And he tells us to make us understand that what we see is his interpretation of that moment in David Bowie’s life. Range had already walked the fine line between reality and fiction in his Death Of a President – Death of a President, mockumentary where some real materials were used, and a form naturally associated with truth, such as the documentary, to tell a hyperbolic and imaginary story. Here, clearly fictional cinema is used to tell a story that is not true, but likely, which moves on some well-founded bases.
David Bowie, the movie Stardust still does not have the approval of the son
The David Bowie to come
Stardust, in short, it cannot be considered a successful film, at least not completely. However, it is an interesting film, which does not excite but lets itself be seen, because it can be intriguing to try to guess something from a little known period of Bowie. The speech of madness is also interesting. Bowie’s brother had psychological problems, and was a hereditary defect: the David Bowie we see in the film is scared for his future, fears that mental illness may affect him too. In general, the historical reconstruction, the costumes, the sets work. And Jena Malone works, very good, in the role of Angela Bowie. And then there are a series of pearls, inserted in the script, which try, yes, to show us the Bowie that will be. “We have to provoke people, make them react“let’s hear Bowie say.”If you don’t know who you are, make up another one“one of the characters tells him. They are little omens of the David Bowie to come. An immense artist.
In the review of Stardust we told you that, as often happens in films of this type, the reconstruction of the historical period and the atmosphere were successful and very interesting. But, as often happens, Stardust really fails to capture the soul of the artist he tells. It’s still an interesting film, because from a little-known Bowie period it can be intriguing to try to guess something.
Because we like it
- The idea of telling a not-yet-famous Bowie is intriguing.
- The historical reconstruction and the atmosphere of the film are effective.
- Also interesting is the speech about Bowie’s brother-related madness.
- The film does not deal with the perception that, yesterday and today, the public had and has of Bowie.
- Looking at Johnny Flynn, we never believe we are looking at Bowie.
- The dramaturgical construction does not work.