Monday 11 January 2016

For the Starman Who Fell to Earth - In Memory of David Bowie (January 8, 1947-January 10, 2016)

Last updated January 27th, 2016
Screenshot from the music video for David Bowie's "Blackstar" (2016, directed by Johan Renck)

Film Studies For Free was shocked and saddened by the sudden news, today, of the death of David Bowie at the age of 69.

Hence, this FSFF tribute entry, prepared largely courtesy of Drew Morton (@thecinemadoctor) who specially wrote a text to accompany his great compilation video (both below) about Bowie as a film actor.  Thanks so much to Drew. 

Another unmissable tribute is David Hudson's for Keyframe Daily | Fandor, linked to here. There could also hardly be a better, concise eulogy than this public one at Facebook by Tim Lucas.

And there are some more online, scholarly Bowie links, assembled by FSFF, immediately below/

RIP Starman.

Online articles and videos of scholarly note

By Drew Morton

A short compilation produced by Drew Morton (Texas A&M University-Texarkana) focusing on David Bowie's filmography. Features clips from THE PRESTIGE, THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH, LABYRINTH, INTO THE NIGHT, ZOOLANDER, THE HUNGER, and many more.

I have a feeling that many of us are going to be emotionally processing the death of pop star and cultural icon David Bowie for quite some time. Part of this is no doubt because he had turned 69 years old and released his 27th album - BLACKSTAR - just three days ago. However, I would also posit that a great deal of the shock - this unbelievable unreality - lies in Bowie’s persona: an outsider, an alien, an eccentric who could not possibly be from this world. 
While this 'impossible' quality no doubt stems from his ever evolving musical persona - from the gender bending rockstar of ZIGGY STARDUST and DIAMOND DOGS to the Aryan Thin White Duke of STATION TO STATION - it was also underscored and amplified by Bowie’s screen presence. While he tells us in the lyrics to his new single “Blackstar” that he’s “not a film star,” the influential rocker appeared in nearly twenty films and brought his unique brand of abnormal to such notable historical figures as Nikola Tesla in Christopher Nolan’s THE PRESTIGE and Andy Warhol in Julian Schnabel’s BASQUIAT. Bowie’s performance as both characters is incredibly quiet, as if his presence on screen is so large that he needs to compensate for it. Yet, when the worlds of the films veered towards fantasy or surreal horror, Bowie was there to give it his all. 
His performance as Jareth the Goblin King in LABYRINTH has become a cult favorite, partially thanks to the iconic tights that showoff his physique (and everything you can include under that umbrella - and I do mean everything) but also thanks to his especially chilling performance in a children’s film. LABYRINTH is also unique because it is one of the few Bowie films in which he performs musically at length (the musical ABSOLUTE BEGINNERS would be another example). Thus, the bulk of Bowie’s appearances rely on the strangeness of his presence rather than the talents he was typically famous for. 
Take, for instance, his performances as Philip Jeffries in David Lynch’s TWIN PEAKS: FIRE WALK WITH ME and John Blaylock in Tony Scott’s THE HUNGER. In the former, Bowie is featured in one scene in which he plays an FBI agent displaced in time and space. When he returns to warn his fellow colleagues that “we live inside a dream,” Lynch amplifies his disconnect with cross-fades to loud television static and shots of Bowie desperately trying to explain himself before he disappears again. In the latter, Bowie begins the film with a persona not terribly far removed from his early 80s rocker as he frequents a punk dance club with his girlfriend (played by Catherine Deneuve - which makes this probably the most attractive on screen couple ever). It soon becomes apparent that they are both vampires and have been together for centuries. Yet, Bowie’s character is aging at an accelerated rate, which means the film asks him to play a character in his thirties that ages into his seventies over the course of an afternoon. Because it’s Bowie, this unreality feels all the more real. 
Of course, there are many other Bowie performances to distill. His starring role in MERRY CHRISTMAS, MR. LAWRENCE to his role as a hit man in John Landis’s INTO THE NIGHT are two others that come to mind. Yet, his first role, that of the alien Thomas Jerome Newton in Nicolas Roeg’s THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH, took his star persona literally and made great use of it through his calculated gestures and androgynous features. It also serves as a partial prequel to the second single on Bowie’s latest - and now final album - “Lazarus,” which are as fitting last words for Bowie himself: “This way or no way/You know, I’ll be free/Just like that bluebird/Now ain’t that just like me.”
© Drew Morton, 2016

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