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Film Review #17: MOONAGE DAYDREAM

Written by Deepesh Vasudev

The Space-Invading Sound and Vision of David Bowie

For one hundred and forty minutes, Brett Morgen invaded my head space with the consciousness of David Bowie. 

Morgen refuses the traditional norms of a Documentary, there are no talking heads and no interview questions shot for the film. Moonage Daydream is an exercise in pure montage theory. Brett Morgen spent seven years crafting the film, going through five million items and arranging them in a structure that spoke more than any interview would have. Moonage Daydream is one of those works of art that cannot exist outside of its medium of film, it needs both Sound and Vision.

As expected the sound of Moonage Daydream is expertly crafted, especially since it is a documentary based on a musician but the sound is more than just good to the ear. When concert footage is shown, the sound design mimics that of a concert, the bass vibrates your body and when an interview or voice recording is heard, the voice almost feels bodyless and floats into ears, making it feel like Bowie is right beside you. Morgen edits some of the tracks with diegetic sounds from the footage, Morgen impressively breaks this boundary between sound and vision, and the music and footage are edited into a coalescence of the two. It’s a unified experience of the highest form, what many filmmakers dream of achieving when it comes to experiencing cinema.

The footage used in the film is primarily footage involving Bowie but Morgen also used other archival footage to set up the cultural and historical periods that Bowie went through. The best example of this technique is the first use of this in the film, before we join Bowie, Morgen gives us a cultural and historical lesson about the West, including footage of Georges Méliès’s 1902 film “A Trip to the Moon” and the 1969 Moon Landing of Apollo 11. Morgen also uses repetition, there are a series of shots of David Bowie walking around Singapore and Morgen repeats these shots almost three times in three different parts of the film. But each time, after the preceding song/montage these shots felt different, I felt feelings of loss and isolation in some parts but in others, I felt self-discovery and growth.

The film lacks a traditional narrative, and even though the footage does have a loose chronological order, some shots from the 90s are used when discussing Bowie’s life in the 70s and vice versa. Morgen creates meaning and foreshadowing through these choices. There is a narrative, but it comes from the constant juxtaposition of shots and music.

There is so much more I want to say but it is difficult to put Moonage Daydream into words because it refuses to be contained into singular forms of meaning. The film is through and through an experience, best seen and heard in the largest and loudest possible cinema. You enter the movie like being born into the world, without any introduction, but you leave the cinema feeling like you knew David Bowie through and through, at least for that one hundred and forty minutes.

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This review is published as part of *SCAPE’s Film Critics Lab: A Writing Mentorship Programme organised by The Filmic Eye, with support from the Singapore Film Society and Sinema.

About the Author: Deepesh Vasudev is a filmmaker and also majors in Philosophy at NUS. He has created short films, music videos, adverts and visual poems, to name a few.

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About the Movie:
Directed by: Brett Morgen
Cast: David Bowie (archive footage), Trevor Bolder (archive footage), Ken Fordham (archive footage)

Year: 2022
Duration: 2h 15mins
Language: English

Synopsis: Moonage Daydream illuminates the life and genius of David Bowie, one of the most prolific and influential artists of our time. Told through sublime, kaleidoscopic, never-before-seen footage, performances and music, Brett Morgen’s (The Kid Stays in the Picture, Cobain: Montage of Heck, Jane) feature length experiential cinematic odyssey explores David Bowie’s creative, musical and spiritual journey. The film is guided by David Bowie’s own narration and is the first officially sanctioned film on the artist.

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