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Laramie Movie Scope: Moonage Daydream

David Bowie and his many ch-ch-changes

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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November 21, 2022 – Moonage Daydream is a movie, about the artist David Bowie (1947-2016) that throws thousands of images from many sources at you. At the same time, it throws as many ideas at you as it does images. In a way it is like a very long music video combined with meditations on the meaning of life.

The movie argues that Bowie put his musical stamp on the years and decades in which he lived, but I think his music is timeless, like jazz. I first saw this film in my home theater, and the musical surround sound is really excellent.

This is a fascinating movie about a fascinating man. The movie is so densely packed with images, music and ideas that there is no way I can summarize it in a few hundred words for an easy read, so I will just delve into a few ideas from the movie that appealed to me the first time I saw it, last night.

The first is the mysterious nature of time, that time is a “ ... word [that] desires to be understood. To have meaning. But you somehow feel that it's not you yourself that the word is addressing. It washes over you ... It's something that straddles past and future without ever quite being present ... And all at once, the outward appearance of meaning is transcended. And you find yourself struggling to comprehend a deep and formidable mystery: All is transient.”

Bowie said that one thing that particularly stayed with him from the time he spent at a Buddhist retreat, “ ... was the feeling of impermanence and transience ... about everything ... nothing's gonna stay around very long. I mean, you know, everything changes at different rates. ♪Time may change me. But I can't trace time.”

Bowie continued, “There's a certain buoyancy that you can develop as you get older if you are capable of absorbing that it's a finite life, and a finite existence. And it's a kind of a knowledge that you cannot possibly entertain when you're young. You cannot entertain the real magnificence and inevitability of the short span of years that we spend on the earth. And I think if you are really honest with that reality, you can have a kind of a freedom, artistically, spiritually, and emotionally that you don't have when you're young.”

In the movie, Bowie also addresses the idea of chaos and how he comes to grips with it. “We live within this manifested idea of what should be form, and what we try and keep out of our existence is chaos, which is a very real part of our lives, and our refusal to accept chaos as being integral to our existence, I think, has been one of the greatest mistakes as a civilization that we've made.”

“Chaos and fragmentation is something that I've always been very comfortable with. That obviously is my through-line. Because I've always felt that there's no real central one truth in life. That the way we live is trying to make sense of the endless vortex of fragments. That essentially, we try and pull these weedy little truths and absolutes out of this kind of mindless chaos, which is the real universe.”

Bowie talks about the time he lived in America. Some of his musings seem to predict the rise of authoritarianism in the U.S. including the January 6, 2021 attempt to overthrow the government: “There's a good, old circle thing, and it really is, it's the decadence that precedes the righteousness, and the morality of an extremely right wing art form, which, in its right wing-ness is in fact very liberal because the faster you can get rid of the right wings, and by accelerating it, then you bring back. You've got to go through the dictatorship. You've got to go through the right wing ...”

Of course, being a movie about Bowie, it is also about the music business and how he fits into it. He talks about the time he spent in Berlin, working with experimental music and visual artist Brian Eno on a new kind of musical language. In the film, Bowie often talks about his need to pursue visual art forms, to travel the world, to experience different cultures, in order to continually reinvent himself, only to come full circle from experimentation to write simpler, more accessible music later in his career.

When he does produce more popular music and embark on wildly successful world tours, he is, of course, accused of selling out, but he retorts, “I don't begrudge any artist for getting an audience. I'm sorry, I never found that poverty meant purity.” But he also regrets the time spent on superstar tours because of the lack of musical advancement, and the lack of time for self exploration.

Earlier in life, Bowie avoided marriage and commitments, to focus on his art, but later, he came to embrace them, He says, “As you know, I've only been married seven months and I really want to spend more time within the marriage. I think the worst thing to do is run away for a year. I really do.”

In one interview in the movie, Bowie agrees that he hides behind his makeup on stage and in public because he does not want to appear as himself. Based on appearances, at least, there is no way anyone could think the artist David Bowie was just an ordinary man, but I suspect he was, in private, at least. It is that common humanity, combined with his very public exploration of existential meaning that all people have in common, that is his real appeal.

Bowie said, “For me, there's always been a thread of merely, a search. Generally, I think the subject matters always come back to this singular question of nearly every artist, which is what's my relationship with the universe? Whatever other form it takes that's basic, I think that's probably the essential question that all of us ask ourselves. A lot of us probably in that last few minutes.”

One thing I got from this movie is that Bowie became more and more in peace with life as he got older, and that is a comforting thought. Bowie says, “I'm dying. You are dying. Second by second, all is transient. Does it matter? Do I bother? Yes I do. Life is fantastic. It never ends. It only changes. Flesh to stone to flesh. And round and round. Best keep walking.”

There is a lot to take in, watching this movie, more than you can get in one sitting. This film rates an A.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in digital formats, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff (no extra charges apply). I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2022 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at dalek three zero one nine at gmail dot com [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]