Monday, January 11, 2016

Bowie in Film


The news of David Bowie's death has been like an all-day, slow-motion explosion. The man had such a pervasive hand in popular culture, music, style and film. There have been pop stars in movies before but how many have made anything like Bowie's impact?

Putting aside his own career in front of the camera for a moment - though we'll get back to it - consider these uses of Bowie songs in film:

CHRISTIANE F. (1981): Bowie is all over this film about a teenage drug addict, perhaps most memorably in a scene where a group of teenagers run through a train station and smash a ticket booth while "Heroes" plays. More than any other, this film gives us a sense of how essential and what a lifeline Bowie's music was to young people of the '70s and '80s.

DOGVILLE (2003): At the end of Lars von Trier's harrowing indictment of small town America, we hear a joyous piano arpeggio and Bowie's bittersweet "Young Americans" plays over a montage of stark photos of Americans in trouble.

WORLD'S GREATEST DAD (2009): At a moment of extreme personal crisis, Robin Williams' character takes off his clothes and dives into a school swimming pool while "Under Pressure" plays. It's a (toweringly great) song that's used a lot, but for once it is not wasted.

INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS (2009): In an inspired music choice, Bowie's song "Cat People: Putting Out Fire") is used in a scene where a character is preparing for a dangerous life-or-death mission.

This is not even to mention the sneakily pervasive LABYRINTH (1986), where in addition to playing an iconic role he sings several songs. It's one of many unforgettable onscreen appearances. Some of the best of these are:

THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH (1976): Bowie was born to play an alien, and he is brilliant at it in Nicolas Roeg's wiggy sci-fi classic.

THE HUNGER (1983): Bowie plays a 200-year old vampire in a frantic search for a means to prolong his eternal youth in this ultra-stylish vampire movie costarring Catherine Deneuve and Susan Sarandon.

MERRY CHRISTMAS MR. LAWRENCE (1983): Bowie is exceptionally good in Nagisa Ă”shima story of relationships between captured British soldiers and their Japanese captors in a WWII P.O.W. camp.

THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST (1988): In Martin Scorsese's flawed but ambitious adaptation of Nikos Kazantzakis' novel, Bowie plays Pontius Pilate.

TWIN PEAKS: FIRE WALK WITH ME (1991): Bowie makes a cameo appearance as a mysterious figure in one of agent Dale Cooper's dreams. He affects a southern drawl and says the unforgettable line, "Wayull now, I'm not gonna tawlk about Judeee."

BASQUIAT (1996): Bowie was a strangely appropriate choice to play Andy Warhol, whom he had celebrated in song 25 years earlier.

Many of Bowie's film and television appearances to follow were more-or-less cameos. He had become an icon too big to be contained in a character. But Bowie was a fine actor with a commanding presence and sense of movement. In roles like the Goblin King in LABYRINTH he throws off rock-star sparks, but in character. That's a testament to the skill of this man who played many roles onscreen and off.

1 comment:

  1. http://www.newyorker.com/culture/cultural-comment/david-bowie-in-the-movies

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