by Hazel Anna Rogers for the Carl Kruse Blog
It is that the world is saturated, without respite nor release. It is that the doors, while open where they once were not, are so numerous and ever-shifting, and open for those right beside you but not for yourself, and demanding of certain papers and objects and classifications for entry even though you are so close to them that you can almost glimpse the other side. And it all seems so illogical, for the pages and dreams are so transparent now that you can see how they dress, how they brush their teeth, even how they sleep, and yet the translucent sheet which separates you from them burns you to the touch and can become concrete in a second. The seas are rougher than ever, and boats raised suddenly above the waves at the tips of crests can instantaneously drop to beneath the muddied waters, gone forever. It is that the world is saturated, and an alleyway is a gap barely wide enough to push your hand through, let alone yourself; and a doorway is a cat flap locked by an owner with no face; and chance is a letter from the bank with a negative number printed in small font. This is the predicament of the contemporary artist.
I went to see Moonage Daydream, by Brett Morgen, at its Sunday matinee the weekend of its UK release. I went with my mother and my partner. The BFI IMAX at Waterloo (England) is a great cylindrical beast. You arrive at the base of it through a piss-covered tunnel, which you follow round until you find yourself beneath a veil of vines, tendrils of which pour down into the bricked passageway below. Cracks of cold sunlight filter through, and it feels as though you might be in a place other than where you are. You follow the building round to the right and find yourself at the doors to the foyer. I waited in the foyer and ate sweet popcorn with my mama. My lover arrived after us and asked why I had not dressed more colorfully. I wore all black: a black midi-length skirt, a black long-sleeve t-shirt, black baggy trousers, big walking shoes, and a black linen blazer. I painted freckles onto my cheeks and colored my cheeks and nose and lips pink and my eyes white. I looked pretty. Bowie was not always colorful.
We went up to the auditorium. My mother and I yelped at the grandeur of the screen. It took some getting used to. I recall a particularly imposing Pepsi advert, whereby a voice illustrates the various sounds of a Pepsi being open and drunk and the like while CGI images of bubbles and a Pepsi can flashed about on the screen. It was a bombardment of the senses, wild and loud and forgettable. Nothing endured on the huge IMAX sheet longer than a handful of seconds. This world is Warhol manifest, though I cringe as I say it. Fame and noise splatter themselves over billboards and screens for a few days at a time, and it is all utterly predictable and no longer shocks, no matter how extreme the image or message it expounds is. After a short while, the screen of the IMAX turned dark, and a quieter voice resounded from below. I looked down to see a cinema attendant addressing the audience, his face lit up by a focused spotlight. He cracked a few jokes and indicated the emergency exits to us. The oddity of this small gentleman being stared at by all in the audience was funny to me after the splendor of the screen and its rapid-fire promises.
The film began. Bowie’s voice echoed about the stereo. I oriented myself around the screen, looking into its corners as he spoke to us all. This journey was for us to witness, together. I was shaking with excitement. Suddenly, there he was, on stage, gyrating, smirking, teetering at the edge. Lights floated over the audience in front of him. There were thousands of them, some crying, reaching for him, and some standing deadly still, transfixed. The camera switched to shots of crowds trailing over kilometers, buying tickets, exchanging tickets; and a girl, sat on some steps, sobbing. The cameraman asked her why she was crying. She said she had been waiting for hours for Bowie to come out, that they’d told her he was coming. Some girls came over as she was speaking with huge grins and glittering eyes. They said they’d kissed his hands and touched him. I felt my heart begin to tremble. There is not much in this world that I would not have given to touch Bowie, or just to see him. It is a lifelong heartbreak. I began to cry, softly.
Shots of interviews were thrown sporadically through moments in the film. Disdainful Bowie; shy Bowie; Stand-offish Bowie; Excited Bowie; Naïve Bowie; but ever-polite Bowie, ever open Bowie, ever kind and gentle Bowie, never selfish Bowie. It speaks to the greatness of a man, to see his ability to control himself and to reject any call for him to rise to a bait.
Image from Portland (Oregon) Art Museum showing of Moonage Daydream
It is true, what they say about Moonage Daydream being a kaleidoscopic feat of a film. It is color, brightness, garishness, and everything in between, with moments of intimacy and grief and darkness. I could have watched hours and hours of it. Just under three hours, as long as it might seem, could never be enough to portray the genius and ever-changeability of Bowie the artist. I greatly appreciated the inclusion of many of Bowie’s paintings, which I had never really seen before. These paintings are deeply lonely portraits of persons Bowie met on his own journey, people he connected with and found on the road as he moved through himself. Most of the videos and images of Bowie himself in the film were of him alone, as alone as the people in his colorful portraits. Even during the interview sections, Bowie would be looking slightly away from camera, and would be alone in shot, pensive, contemplative. When I spoke to my mother after the film she said she did not believe him when he said he was never lonely. She said she couldn’t think of a lonelier man, traveling the world, living in hotel room after hotel room, disorientated, far from home. I’m not sure I agree. But then I never knew him, and neither did she.
I should harken back to the first paragraph of this article. It is difficult to explain my feelings in writing it, but I suppose those words are the manifestation of my thoughts after watching the film. They have something to do with the permanence of an artist made before the age of internet, before the rise of the online star, before the age of endless images. That is not to say that there wasn’t a saturation of art and music and the like before the twenty-first century, but I suppose it is to say that there is a certain unachievable mystique and wonder in an artist created by sheer creativity and momentous expression, rather than by one viral video, or tweet, or whatever else it is that makes people famous today. There is so much fame and fortune and music and pictures that I sometimes feel lost within it. I don’t know where to turn, where to walk to, which door to knock upon, because those doors seem to be swathed in incomprehensible complications and strange barriers which I do not have the keys nor the codes with which to open. Watching Moonage Daydream was like waking up and seeing the possibilities of life dripping off of my fingertips like paint. The film made me realize what it is to be an artist; not a pleaser nor an endless promoter, but a person of discipline and belief and learning. I do not believe it is enough to be talented, nor to have good ‘connections’ to an industry, when it comes to being an artist. My own aim, or trajectory – if I can call it that – has been reoriented. It is the arriving and departing which is the thing. It is not that me or my art must endure, but that that which I pour from myself into my art can be a reminder to myself that life must be lived, and that arbitrary notions of success and beauty and fame must be quelled if I am to truly follow this path onwards. Moonage Daydream felt like a daydream – it felt like I was watching a reality which I have never and will never truly know, a microcosm of backroom imagination and invention unmarked by the distractions and boredoms and everyday existence which is forced upon me day after day. It made me nostalgic for a life and an era which I didn’t live within.
For some reason, at the end of the film my mother and my lover and I decided to stay until the end of the credits. I am so grateful that I did. I wish I could remember exactly what Bowie said. I will have to go back and see the film again so that I can write the quote down and read it over and over again. All I can say is that it was something like: ‘It was great speaking with you. I learned so much about you. I hope we’ll meet again.’ Or something like that. It was longer, and more heartfelt, and more representative of the whole of the film itself than you could possibly imagine, because the whole audience began clapping when he stopped talking, and I couldn’t stop crying.
“All people, no matter who they are, all wish they’d appreciated life more. It’s what you do in life that’s important, not how much time you have or what you wished you’d done.”
- David Bowie, 1947-2016
The Carl Kruse Blog Homepage is at https:www.carlkruse.com
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Other articles by Hazel include, A Good Night, Amanda Gorman, and What Makes Something Humurous.
Another article on David Bowie, focusing on “Major Tom,” is at the Carl Kruse Arts Blog.
An older Carl Kruse Blog.