January 29, 2010

David Bowie in the movies

By: Sonny Bunch

Reading an essay about how terrible the average musician is on film in Joe Queenan’s If You’re Talking to Me, Your Career Must Be in Trouble, I came across his description of David Bowie:

Still, with the single exception of the absolutely atrocious Absolute Beginners, all of Bowie’s films are worth watching, if only because of his unrehearsed strangeness. Bowie is the only rock star to have ever brough anything to the movies that the movies didn’t already have. He is also the most enduring of the seventies great glamorous weirdos. There will always be a place in my heart for the Zigster.

It jumped out at me because I recently re-watched The Man Who Fell to Earth for my most recent piece at the Weekly Standard‘s website. It’s an odd movie, one that revolves around an alien (Bowie) who comes to Earth in order to search for a way to bring water back to his drought-ridden home planet. That description doesn’t do the flick justice though: It’s about exploration of humanity through the eyes of an outsider, alcohol abuse, sexual self-discovery, and other things. And lots — lots — of 70s-era sex. I wouldn’t say the film was shot as an excuse to have naked people rolling around together (it’s not softcore porn, not even close) but it does sometimes feel that way a little bit.

Like I said, it’s odd, but it’s worth watching entirely for the magnetic, androgynous Bowie, who spends most of the film looking something like Tilda Swinton. As Queenan notes, the unadulterated strageness on screen is something to behold, whether it’s for a full length role or for five minutes in Zoolander. I think his most underrated role was in the terribly underrated Christopher Nolan flick, The Prestige. There he plays the enigmatic inventor Nikola Tesla, a role well-suited for his particular blend of eerie brilliance.