Telling the story of an artist like David Bowie requires more than just the facts.
Directed by Brett Morgan, Moonage Daydream is a fitting tribute to an eclectic artist with a mythical mind. Heralded as a musician, painter, actor and world traveler, David Bowie was a man of immeasurable talent and creativity. Six years after his death, Daydream taps into that energy by interconnecting performances of some of Bowie’s biggest hits such as Space Oddity, Sound and Vision, Heroes and more with rare footage and montages. In doing so, Morgan builds a stunning and spiritual portrait of the artist unlike any we’ve seen before.
Setting itself apart from other biographical documentaries, Daydream operates exactly like its title suggests. Part concert video and part stock footage, the film weaves itself together in such a way that it feels like some sort of ethereal fantasy, rather than constructed narrative. This is a film which taps into the eclectic nature of the iconic artist, rather than giving us dates and facts. In other words, rather than telling us about Bowie directly, Daydream seeks to help us experience him in his own words. Morgan doesn’t want to explain anything in particular. Instead, he wants you to feel it. By fusing together musical performances and interviews, the film creates an expression of Bowie in his work that highlights his creativity and brilliant mind. As a result, Morgan somehow manages to create a story that feels like an authentic picture of Bowie and his legacy.
In doing so, the end result is somewhat of an eclectic experience that may be divisive for viewers. For long-time Bowie fans, this will undoubtedly be a treasured film, which taps into the soul of an artist. However, for those less willing to engage the film’s ebb and flow, it’s possible that they will be frustrated by the film’s lack of narrative structure.
Like much of Bowie’s work, Daydream is a film about spiritual inquest. Throughout his career, Bowie has shown a deep seeded passion for discussing issues that other artists were simply unwilling to attempt and Morgan taps into that energy. With each musical number or montage, Daydream invites the viewer into a place of wonder with a deeper sense of the beyond. Opening the film with a quote from Bowie regarding his spiritual reflections, Morgan highlights the artist’s belief that man is attempting to fill a void that was left by Nietzsche after he claimed that God is dead. He is preparing the viewer for a journey into the soul.
And what a journey it is.
Simply put, Bowie was saying things that no one else was at that time. Whether it’s support of the LGBTQ community, redefining gender stereotypes or challenging others to open their minds spiritually, Daydream puts Bowie‘s desire to stretch his audience fully on display. For example, in one particularly funny moment, a flamboyantly-dressed Bowie is asked in an interview whether he is wearing ‘men’s shoes or women’s shoes’. When pushed by the interviewer to share the meaning behind his attire, Bowie stares at the interviewer with a wry grin and states that “These are ‘shoe shoes’, silly.“ In moments such as these, Bowie managed to deflate the stereotypes and gender norms of the era in ways that were neither belittling yet somehow remained subversive.
Although the film will have its detractors due to its free structure, Morgan has built something truly unique in Moonage Daydream. By allowing Bowie to speak in a style more befitting his creativity, Daydream serves as a reminder that the power of an artist lies beyond the information that can be compiled. Instead, it requires the viewer to step into their soul.
And Daydream is an invitation to do just that.
Moonage Daydream premiered at TIFF ’22 and is now playing in theatres.