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Brett Morgen
David Bowie
Brett Morgen
A cinematic odyssey exploring David Bowie's creative and musical journey.
Rated PG-13.

Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
English Dolby Atmos
English LPCM 2.0
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 135 min.
Price: $39.95
Release Date: 9/26/2023

• Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Brett Morgen
• Q&A
• Interview with Writer/Director Brett Morgen and Re-Recording Mixers David Giammarco and Paul Massey
• 1974 Live Performance
• Trailer
• Booklet


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Moonage Daydream: Criterion Collection [Blu-Ray] (2022)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (September 17, 2023)

An unconventional rock star would seem to demand an unconventional documentary view of his life. That becomes the case with 2022’s Moonage Daydream, Brett Morgen’s take on David Bowie.

Morgen makes Daydream more of a visual collage than a straight-ahead discussion of its subject. While the narrative follows essentially a chronological path, it jumps around and can play fast and loose with its topics.

The only commentary comes from Bowie himself, as Morgen relies on a trove of interviews and film clips to allow Bowie to reflect on his own life and career. Copious amounts of music and a variety of multimedia techniques attempt to convey the talent and man that was Bowie.

And it's a mess. Incoherent and grating much of the time, the movie seems satisfactory neither for dedicated Bowie fans like me nor for those without much Bowie background.

The movie assumes the viewer enters with good Bowie history knowledge, as it progresses through eras with little explanation. Which is fine for someone like me, but for those who lack such background, I suspect the movie will become very confusing.

If Moonage offered real depth about Bowie, that would be okay, but it seems extremely superficial. The film's thesis seems to be the usual "Bowie was a chameleon and always on the move", which means it comes with little actual insight.

I take that back: it comes with no actual insight. It regurgitates cliche views of Bowie and never delivers substance.

The movie's idea of pensive meaning comes from its overuse of footage shot in Asia at the end of his 1983. The film utilizes these clips - which fans know from the Ricochet documentary - throughout its length whenever it wants "Bowie as a searcher" material.

The movie essentially starts in 1972 and comes with only a few flashbacks to indicate Bowie existed before he "became" Ziggy Stardust. In an eye-rolling move, the headache-inducing visuals appear to equate this to the Big Bang.

From there until Bowie goes to Berlin in 1977, the film pours on visual overload that make it look like one long Nine Inch Nails video from 1994. It's relentless and incoherent.

I guess this intends to convey the frantic and occasionally unhinged nature of Bowie's life in that period. Gone unsaid? The fact he was coked to the gills for a substantial amount of that period - or anything that would qualify as actual information.

The frenetic visuals calm when he gets to Berlin, as the movie wants to convey Bowie's increasing inner peace. I guess. The movie never gets close to the heart of Bowie, as it just churns out whatever old sound bites it can find to support its "thesis".

The film’s thesis seems basic and unchallenging - really little more than "that Bowie was a chameleon!" It implies that Bowie really searched for himself all that time, married Iman and finally got it - which might well be true, but it's told in a simplistic manner.

I don't argue that the movie needed to be a concrete "this led to this" narrative - at least not for people who already know the story. I'm all for something that shakes it up, even if I remain pretty sure the whole thing will be impossible to figure out for casual fans.

But the cart drives the horse with Morgen’s attempts to mold everything into his "Bowie the searcher" theme. It remains superficial and unconvincing, partly because it doesn't ground its ideas in much more than random musical montages and portentous soundbites.

That 1972-76 span plays so poorly I nearly walked out of the theater. Pretentious and incoherent, it's a chore to endure.

When the pace calms, the movie becomes more watchable, and the director does work from an enviable archive of material - even if he remains obsessed with that Ricochet footage. Still, we get snatches of fascinating live material and some good interview snippets.

Too bad it's all in service of a movie that has nothing fresh to say - and that conveys its tired ideas in an intensely off-putting manner. Bowie could use a long-form documentary ala the Beatles’ Anthology. Unfortunately, Moonage just becomes a tiresome endeavor.

Footnote: a tag from Bowie appears after the conclusion of the end credits.

The Disc Grades: Picture B/ Audio B+/ Bonus B

Moonage Daydream appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.78:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. A hodgepodge of sources, the disc replicated the film as created.

Which meant virtually zero consistency. Sharpness varied from very good to awfully soft, with everything between as well.

Occasional instances of shimmering and jaggies materialized due to the wide range of film/video used, but I saw no added edge haloes. Grain popped up as necessary and could become heavy.

Print flaws also depended on the original material. Much of the movie looked clean, but more than a few instances of specks and marks appeared.

Unsurprisingly, colors also veered all over the place. Elements created specifically for the film boasted nice vivacity, but plenty of less than attractive hues occurred. Still, in general the colors became a strength.

Blacks depended on the source, so some showed nice depth while others became too dense. The same held true for shadows. Given the nature of the film, I felt it earned a “B”, but one should anticipate a lot of ups and downs.

Downconverted to Dolby TrueHD 7.1, the movie’s Dolby Atmos offered more consistent pleasures, especially in terms of music. The constant array of songs blended to all the channels in an immersive manner.

Effects followed suit, as those components cropped up around the room in a positive manner. Speech largely remained centered.

Due to the film’s intentions, the soundscape can lean overwhelming at times. Nonetheless, the track used the channels in a largely satisfying way.

Audio quality held up well, though of course, those pieces depended on their sources. This meant occasional signs of reedy speech or rough effects.

Music also came with some less satisfying moments – such as the semi-low-fi 1974 Buffalo performance – but most of the time, the songs worked well. Indeed, some of them sounded terrific.

As noted, speech and effects showed inconsistencies, but they appeared positive overall. The soundtrack suited the project.

When we shift to extras, we launch with an audio commentary from writer/director Brett Morgen. He offers a running, screen-specific discussion of the movie’s development and research, visual/auditory choices, technical elements and thematic threads and decisions.

At the start, Morgen relates a reluctance to “explain” the movie, and he semi-resists that tendency, though he does get into his “story” choices to some degree. He balances these with a nice view of all the challenges involved with a project of this scope and he makes this a strong examination of the movie.

Shot at the TCL Chinese Theater in Hollywood and introduced by Jack Black, a Q&A involves Morgen, filmmaker Mark Romanek and musician Mike Garson.

We get some basics about the film as well as thoughts about Bowie. We get a fair amount of repetition from Morgen’s commentary and don’t find many insights here.

An Interview with Re-Recording Mixers David Giammarco and Paul Massey goes for 26 minutes, 42 seconds. It also involves Morgen.

As expected, the featurette looks at the sound design of the film. We find a useful view of the technical issues and choices.

In addition to the film’s trailer, we get a live performance taped in Buffalo November 8, 1974. This gives us “Rock ‘n’ Roll With Me” and runs four minutes, 52 seconds.

Shot on video, the clip looks and sounds mediocre at best. That said, fans will love this snippet – and hope that we get the whole concert released. While the Bowie camp has given us multiple audio recordings from the 1974 tour, no video versions have yet hit, so lesser quality and all, we’d be exceedingly happy to sink our teeth into the entire show.

Finally, we get a booklet that provides a foldout poster on one side as well as credits and an essay from film critic Jonathan Romney on the other. It adds value to the set.

Too pretentious and over the top for its own good, Moonage Daydream becomes a messy documentary. While fans will enjoy the smorgasbord of rare clips, the overall package becomes a grating mess. The Blu-ray offers appropriate visuals, solid audio and selection of useful bonus materials. As a diehard Bowie buff, I can find elements to satisfy, but the movie leaves me unhappy as a whole.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3.5 Stars Number of Votes: 2
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