Brett Morgen’s Moonage Daydream is unlike any documentary you may have seen. A large reason for this is because calling it a documentary seems like a disservice. After all, anything surrounding the enigma that is David Bowie is bound to exist somewhere outside the usual lines. Instead, Moonage Daydream serves audiences a multi-medium portrait of what is surely one of the most fascinating artists and humans to ever grace this plane of existence. Over 140 minutes, archival footage of Bowie in interviews, on stage, and exploring the world blends alongside psychedelic effects and iconic cinematic inspirations. These flashes of cinematic and musical history combine into a mere hint of what it must have been like to see the world from Bowie’s eyes. The Wizard of Oz, The War of the Worlds, A Trip To The Moon. As Morgen bounces the audience around time and space, it seems like the constant through-line makes one thing clear: Existence may be finite, but certain ideas have lasted long before us and will last long after we are gone. It’s in this notion that Bowie’s personality and ideals thrived, and it’s through hearing him directly address the audience that this film elevates into something genuinely remarkable.
Serving as the first film to be supported by the David Bowie Estate is no slim feat. When attempting to pinpoint a figure as massive as him, where do you even begin? Regarded as one of the greatest artists ever, Bowie’s mystique is as fascinating as his music. Through tears due to Bowie’s late arrival at a concert venue, a fan musters up the breath to tell the camera crew, “He’s magic”. As newscasters question who Bowie is and whether or not he actually came from this planet, Bowie’s individuality extends beyond simply witnessing it evolve. Instead, Moonage Daydream achieves its goal at identifying just what it is about Bowie that makes him so endearing. At one point, Bowie is heard expressing that people everywhere began desiring individuality. So by donning his extravagant outfits, glorious makeup, and philosophical ruminations about music, life, and everything in between, he set a path for all to take. Yet Bowie makes it clear he did not wish them to follow, but to simply be there along for the ride. At no point does Bowie appear to be anything less than endearing, but it is in the third act of Moonage Daydream that Morgen focuses on what very well may be the star’s most interesting layer.
In his later years, long after Ziggy Stardust returned to the stars, Bowie’s sincerity seems to reach a new peak. Treated to glimpses of him exploring the world, playing music alongside children and locals, it’s clear that the positivity he hoped to spread through his later music was wholly genuine. On the quest for highlighting the necessity of individuality, Bowie was able to find himself time and time again. Through curiosity, one of the most essential traits anybody could ever have, Bowie was able to craft art of the highest order. So it’s here, in the moments Bowie discusses his other passions and how they affect his artistic expression, that is bound to strike a chord. Genuine curiosity is something that appears to be lacking as we travel farther into the future, yet it is essential to who we are as individuals. Bowie’s marvelous outlook on life allowed him to become a multitude of beings in his life, yet none ever appear to be a gimmick. On the contrary, Bowie admits that they serve a distinct purpose. It’s a beautiful trait to see come to life through the gorgeous visuals and awe-inspiring stages he performed on throughout his career. With each new stage presence or idea comes more excitement and wonder at just what might have been going on in the head of Bowie.
While this ascends far beyond a traditional documentary or concert film, it’s impossible to ignore the concert footage Moonage Daydream has to offer. Granted unprecedented access to never-before-seen footage and assisted by Bowie’s long-time musical collaborator Tony Visconti, Bowie has perhaps never looked and sounded better. Bowie’s original stems have been treated for a theatrical environment that will have audiences everywhere bound to be singing and dancing alongside the glorious ballads Bowie graced us with throughout his career. Morgen also offers valuable insight into his creative process. With each moment, it’s clear that Bowie never looked at anything in the same light, and was constantly innovating for the pure sake of curiosity. When he tired of his old music-making process, he reached out to Brian Eno to experiment on creating some new ones; May Bowie’s mindset serve as a beacon for all creatives who feel they are in a rut.
NEON will release Moonage Daydream exclusively in IMAX theaters on September 16th and then in theaters on September 23rd.