Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Put a peephole in my brain

I went (on my own) to the cinema last night to see the new documentary film David Bowie is, an in-depth look at the life of the great man, as outlined in the mind-blowing V&A exhibition of the same name (the fastest selling in the museum’s history, that I went to see last year) which has recently embarked on tour across the Americas, Australia and Europe.

It certainly was stunning to see, in massive close-up and un-encumbered by the immovable hordes of other visitors (as we were in May 2013), the minutiae of David's life that he and the V&A's curators had gathered together to put on stunning display - the costumes, the handwritten lyrics, the publicity material (old and new), the photography, the anecdotes and notebooks, and the legacy encapsulated by Paul Robertson's "Periodic Table of David Bowie" - the story of a life lived in a singular and extraordinary fashion.

"Dress my friends up just for show
See them as they really are
Put a peephole in my brain
Two New Pence to have a go
I'd like to be a gallery
Put you all inside my show"

It was amusing and heart-warming in turn to hear how much this one man,"David Jones from Bromley", has had such an incomparable impact on so many people, from the extravagantly-costumed exhibition visitors to artist Jeremy Deller, from Jarvis Cocker to Philip Hoare, from Paul Morley to Mr Bowie's fave designer Kansai Yamamoto - and upon the the hordes of musicians and performers who have followed in his footsteps.

The epic journey - as intensively covered here - of David's life and musical evolution is a fascinating one, of course, and vox-pops and tributes from "ordinary" people are a contributory part of any story. However, I did have a big problem with the "let's all play to an invited audience" snippets that permeated this long and lavish production.

I realise that this film is not meant to preach to the converted. It is principally intended to convince the (mainly American) public, whose ignorance of things cultural that aren't on screen is presupposed - not least the appeal of a British androgyne space-alien in their midst - to come along to the exhibition and to experience it for themselves. But to do so by placing notable and learned commentators in a setting reminiscent of The Jeremy Kyle Show or any number of US-style "judge-ye-others'-behaviour" TV programmes made my flesh crawl. A lot.

Did the eminent Professor Sir Christopher Frayling really need to be welcomed to the mosh pit stage with a chorus of "whoops" and "yelps" as if he were the next contestant on the X-Factor? It was embarrassing, and detracted needlessly from the documentary as a whole.

Thankfully, that whole is greater than the sum of its parts. So if you can't see the exhibition, see the film!

David Bowie is the exhibition is touring internationally. Confirmed venues are:
  • Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, USA from 23rd September 2014 - 4th January 2015
  • Philharmonie de Paris/ Cité de la Musique, Paris, France from 2nd March to 31st May 2015
  • Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI), Melbourne, Australia from 16th July to 1st November 2015
  • Groninger Museum, Groningen, The Netherlands from 15th December 2015 to 15th March 2016
Further international venues to be announced.

David Bowie is the film is playing at a cinema near you somewhere in the world soon!


  1. This looks so cool! I wish it'd come here, but alas, I'm sure it won't.

    1. The film was released Stateside in September, so more than likely it has been and gone already at some arthouse down your way... Jx


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