Moonage Daydream (2022): The everlasting rise of David Bowie

Larissa Oliveira
Cine Suffragette
Published in
6 min readJan 10, 2023
David Bowie in the promotional poster for Moonage Daydream. Photo: Universal/Neon

I remember it was ten years ago that I became a fan of David Bowie. I was 17 and I heard about him through the movie The Runaways that I had watched two years before and which changed my life. Even though Bowie was a huge influence on the all-girl hard rock group, and there are fantastic scenes in the film that prove that, it was like I wasn’t ready for his revolution yet; The Runways still were my wild thing.

It was when I randomly decided to buy the CD version of The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders from Mars that I freaked out on his cosmic trip. At the time, I was struggling with my sexuality and trying to shape who I was, and Bowie’s ship landed at just the right time. His image was also very important, it represented a comfort in being ambiguous, not just in his androgyny, and little by little I understood why Bowie was a reference in teen cult films such as in Christiane F. and C.R.A.Z.Y. . It’s not that Bowie could solve all teenage conflicts, but his work can lead you to dream and push yourself beyond your limits. Gradually, I got to know more about his albums and personas like Aladdin Sane and Thin White Duke, while enjoying the album he released in 2013, The Next Day, which was a great comeback after a ten-year hiatus.

It’s a difficult task to explain why Bowie became such a timeless icon as everyone feels his impact differently, but still, fan stories fascinate us because, in many of these narratives, we learn how someone’s music saved them. That’s why watching Brett Morgen’s Moonage Daydream (See also Montage of Heck, 2015) is essential for anyone who’s a Bowie fan, as it’s shot from a fan perspective and warms the yearning hearts of those who miss one of the last great rock stars. Besides, in this documentary, each fan can find their own piece of connection with the chameleon of rock, something that not all docs can offer. Even if you don’t like the film as a whole, I believe you are incapable of making yourself totally indifferent to it.

Me in 2012 with my first Bowie CD, the 40th-anniversary edition of Ziggy Stardust and, sometime later, with the Aladdin Sane shirt.

Moonage Daydream takes its title from a song of the same name on the Ziggy Stardust album and the documentary alternates between minutes of iconic performances by Bowie’s different personas (with emphasis on Ziggy’s tour), photographs, compilations of well-known interviews, and rare audio, thanks to Morgen’s exclusive access to Bowie’s archives. We see the artist not only talking about his work, but also reflecting upon a series of questions about art, life, and death, in a way that seems to be addressed directly to the viewers, thus, we feel invited to delve into his experimental journey of more of two hours.

In addition, we are accompanied by countless films — from An Andalusian Dog to Run Lola Run — which confirm that David Robert Jones (his real name) created David Bowie from everything he consumed, but managed at the same time to be ahead of his time. This is also evident when Bowie talked about his bisexuality, as in the famous interview with Russell Harty, in which he claims that there were no “bisexual shoes”, just think of how people try to label things around us as “woman stuff” or “ gay stuff” for example;Bowie says that we all seek to have a role in society, a role that escapes capitalist mindset. The interview is from 1973 and yet resonates our times.

We are also reminded of who instigated this cultural spark in Bowie, his brother Terry, who suffered from schizophrenia and this would inspire him both in the creation of the alien in Aladdin Sane (a lad insane) and in his restless search for horizons beyond the conventional. It was Terry who also introduced him to the Beat Generation. For his songwriting, the chameleon would be inspired by the cut-up technique of one of the writers of the movement, William Burroughs, by cutting up texts that derived from the fluidity of his thinking and from that, rearranging them to generate new meanings.

David Bowie using the cut-up method. Photo: Universal Pictures/Neon
One of the highlights of the documentary for me is the performance of Rock’n’roll with Me from the 74 Soul Tour, a little-remembered gem of his discography. David Bowie’s longtime producer, Tony Visconti, was responsible for the documentary’s incredible sound mixing and because of that, it provided the closest I could get to a Bowie concert. Photo: Universal Pictures/Neon

In fact, the documentary is centered around what inspired David to be David Bowie, so we don’t see as many details about his personal life, only those that influenced his artistic self; but imagine having to show and explain each inspiration! Therefore, I think Morgen did a great job of developing a frantic piece of sound and vision. The only thing that bothered me about the Moonage Daydream was the excessive repetition of some excerpts from Bowie’s music videos and films that could have been balanced with others that appear little or nothing.

However, the director doesn’t just showcases images, he plays with them to set us in notorious moments of Bowie’s career, such as V-2 Schneider playing in a scene from the film Christiane F. while Bowie narrates the beginning of his Berlin trilogy in the background, or when we hear the disoriented piano in Aladdin Sane as Morgen himself uses the cut-up method and mixes lines from a paranoid Bowie at the height of his substance abuse in Los Angeles, in the BBC documentary called Cracked Actor: A Film About David Bowie, and in another interview with Harty, in which David seems spaced out, thus creating an euphoric effect, in other words, Brett made a montage of heck!

Even the fact that Bowie was a Capricorn is important in understanding both his private and success-oriented personality traits. We also see his private nuance when he feared displaying his paintings believing in a negative reaction from the public. Here lies an attempt to deconstruct the myth, unveiling his vulnerability. Photo: Universal/Neon
The Man Who Fell to Earth is the least beloved film among Bowie fans, but its scenes fit so well into the documentary that I bet it will lead fans to give it another try. Photo: Universal/Neon

In Moonage Daydream, after Bowie, those who have more screen time are his fans. That’s why I believe it’s a palpable work for us, much more than if it were in a traditional format with talking heads trying to capture his entire career. When we leave the movie theater, we can spend hours talking about what was missing, what we liked the most, share references, and this human interaction is one of the things that we miss most today; and as we feel empty after Bowie left this planet, we keep his legacy alive by cherishing his works and sharing how we feel about them with others. I remember when I saw the film in the cinema last year, I left the room feeling like I was part of a unique cinematic experience.

Bowie’s greatness does not only lie in his extensive and majestic career but also in how he forged a unique curious relationship with life, showing us that there are so many infinite lives within one; and he explored that even when he predicted his death on his latest album, Blackstar. If Bowie’s death left us in mourning, he wanted us to keep that curiosity alive even in the midst of chaos. After many losses in recent years, Moonage Daydream revitalizes us to reinvent ourselves and continue our odyssey, which will certainly be lighter if accompanied by his music.

Photo: Universal/Neon
“We want Bowie” screamed a fan at one of his concerts in the ’80s. The passages with fans are a highlight of the documentary and make us want to be there screaming along and sharing the same ecstasy. Photo: Universal/Neon

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Larissa Oliveira
Cine Suffragette

Brazilian writer, teacher and zinester. Articles related to cinematic content. I also write for https://medium.com/@womenofthebeatgeneration_