An incredible assemblage of all things David Bowie, Moonage Daydream is a compilation of concert footage, music videos, interviews, film appearances, artwork, and anything else created by or starring the enigmatic performer throughout his fifty-year career.
Introducing the film at this year’s Karlovy Vary International Film Festival after its enthusiastic debut at Cannes, writer-director Brett Morgen (The Kid Stays in the Picture, Cobain: Montage of Heck) described Moonage Daydream as an “experience” to be absorbed as opposed to a traditional biographical portrait.
That’s a fitting description: opening with some outer space-set footage from Bowie’s final album, Blackstar, there’s nary a moment in Moonage Daydream that isn’t filled with Bowie’s music or the man himself describing his thoughts on life.
Moonage Daydream continues to deliver a kind of wall-to-wall collection of Bowie’s greatest hits, all edited to footage from the millions of pieces of Bowie-focused media that director Morgen trawled through over the past two years to include.
It’s a psychedelic, pulse-pounding excursion to Bowie-land, and a one-of-a-kind document only made possible thanks to Bowie’s omnipresence throughout all forms of art and media.
Bowie’s music fills the soundtrack nonstop through the entire 2.5-hour running time, and includes snippets from music videos and some rarely-seen concert footage; in one of Moonage Daydream’s finest sequences, two performances set about thirty years apart are seamlessly cut together.
For film fans, memorable shots from some of Bowie’s acting career are also extensively featured, including snippets from Nicolas Roeg’s The Man Who Fell to Earth, a heart-rending performance in Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence, and the waiting room sequence in Tony Scott’s The Hunger, which remains one of the best vampire moments ever captured on film.
Bowie tells his own life story through pieces of interviews conducted throughout the years. The man himself documents his journey from London to Los Angeles to Berlin, key relationship with his parents, brother, and wife, and his personal journey through individuality, religion, and spirituality.
Ultimately, Moonage Daydream does manage to effectively tell the story of Bowie and his career without using talking heads or any of the usual biographic tropes: roughly tracing his career from the 1960s through the 2010s, the film delivers an irreplaceable feel for the subject without ever relying on material that wasn’t produced by or featuring Bowie himself.
This is a rare documentary that works in cinematic terms of show-don’t-tell, and must be seen in a cinema to fully absorb the audiovisual experience.