About us

We have a new beta site for Reel Fives, please visit us there and not here. Just go to www.reelfives.com. Thanks!

Interested in knowing what we are about? Please see our introduction
Curious about our pre-launch rankings and what we consider 'top movies'? Please see our post here.

Monday, February 1, 2016

David Bowie's Impact on Film

While most people know David Bowie for his music, David Bowie also had a prolific acting career that spanned over 45 years. Bowie acted in both film and TV roles, including 24 roles in feature films. David Bowie’s major roles in feature films included The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976), Just a Gigolo (1978), Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence (1983), The Hunger (1983), and Labyrinth (1986).  

David Bowie as soldier (uncredited)  in  The Virgin Soldiers (1969)
Even in the earlier stages of his artistic career, Bowie was involved in film, with appearances in short films and as an extra going back to 1967. But Bowie’s career in acting was not linear and, rather, concentrated in the period between the mid-70s and the mid-80s, during which time he acted in ten movies. This did not slow down his output as a musician, having released the albums Aladdin Sane (1973), Young Americans (1975), and Let’s Dance (1983) during that same period. What made him special is that even in his most productive years, he had the ability to detach and keep the tones of his different artistic endeavors separate, as if he were placing them in different bins. Critics found Let’s Dance (1983) to be upbeat, which was the opposite feeling of his movie roles during that year. In this way, Bowie sought balance, continuing to surprise his audience. 
Top: David Bowie in The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976).  Bottom: David Bowie performing as Ziggy Stardust in concert, London, 1973.
Bowie embraced the popularity of space exploration in his music and movie roles. This theme permeated his work during the period. The success of Space Oddity (1969), Bowie’s first hit album, and The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (1973) highlighted this period musically. This period produced his, possibly most famous, alter ego Ziggy Stardust- an androgynous alien emissary rock star that came to earth to offer hope to the young.  It was during this phase that he won a Golden Scroll in 1977 for his starring role in The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976) as Thomas Jerome Newton, an alien who, similarly, had to settle to life on earth.

David Bowie as Major Jack 'Strafer' Celliers in Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence (1983).
War was another recurring theme in his artistic career, which can be connected to his roles in war movies (Just a Gigolo (1978) and Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence (1983)) and some of his most challenging characters. Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence (1983) included one of David Bowie’s most acclaimed performances. He played Major Jack 'Strafer' Celliers who surrendered to Japanese soldiers and found himself with his fellow comrades in a POW camp in 1942.  This was not the first time Bowie played a soldier in a film. In the 1969 movie The Virgin Soldiers, Bowie had a minor, uncredited role as a soldier. The film remains one of Bowie’s more serious roles. In Just a Gigolo (1978) Bowie played Prussian officer who returns home to Berlin following World War I and, unable to find employment, ends up having to work as a gigolo in a brothel ran by a baroness.

David Bowie as the Goblin King in Labyrinth (1986)
While many would call David Bowie a musician first, perhaps he should be known as an experimenter. Just like in his music and his personas, David Bowie did not conform to a specific style of acting or character. While he was involved in deep dramas, not all of his roles were serious, and he did not fear taking on roles that needed some imagination both in film and on television. Bowie played the Goblin King in the 1986 film Labyrinth, playing off a darker fairy godmother figure. This was perhaps one of his most beloved film on-screen characters. Bowie worked with David Lynch on Twin Peaks (1991). This was a perfect pairing given Lynch and Bowie’s draw towards experimenting with surreal imagery. Bowie also did a voiceover for the children’s TV series SpongeBob SquarePants in 2007. This was an interesting role given SpongeBob’s lack of gender conformity which perhaps appealed to Bowie, giving him a way to channel his willingness to bend the rules in a child-friendly way.

David Bowie in the musical film Absolute Beginners (1986).
Bowie’s acting career is one of playing roles that are more supportive, whereas by contrast, he was the star in his music career. He was interested in all types of stories. From serious characters (Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence (1983)) to musical numbers (Absolute Beginners (1986)), Bowie did not narrow his acting focus.
He played a supporting actor role in short films and on TV. Many of Bowie’s films did not please the critics, but Bowie has not been one who has wanted to appease the man. In some ways, that is prevalent in his roles. From the soldier who challenges notions of honorability to dancing in the streets, Bowie challenged the norms.
David Bowie as Nikola Tesla in The Prestige (2006)
The Prestige (2006) showcased Bowie in a supporting role. He played Nikola Tesla who found himself between two rising magicians during the 1870s. Though Bowie did not play a critical role in the movie, the movie was highly acclaimed by critics and was nominated for two Oscar awards. This role shows Bowie’s willingness to be part of great work, while not needing to be the star.

Martin Scorsese, Willem Dafoe, and David Bowie having casual conversion on set of The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)
In another minor role, Bowie worked with the famed director Martin Scorsese in the film The Last Temptation of Christ (1988). Bowie played Pontius Pilate, his most religious role. Bowie worked with one of the most acclaimed directors of the time. Once again, Bowie did not need a starring role to make an impact. 

Top: Kristen Wiig playing Space Oddity in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013). Bottom: Seu Jorge playing one of several Portuguese covers of David Bowie songs in Wes Anderson's The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004)
His influence on film also went beyond acting. In 1983, the Golden Globes nominated David Bowie and Giorgio Moroder for Best Original Song-Motion Picture for the film Cat People (1982). The film is about a woman who turns into a black leopard when she is sexually aroused. Bowie wrote and performed the song, which did not drift too far from his style of music at the time, so it was fitting he sang the song for the film. His music has also played central roles in a multitude of films.

Bowie’s film career did not stop at just performing. He was also involved in film from behind the scenes. He produced music for motion pictures, independent movies, and TV series. Bowie has accumulated over 450 soundtrack accreditations in all types of work. 

David Bowie as himself in a cameo in Zoolander (2001), appearing to judge a "walk-off"
David Bowie’s acting career differed from most actors because he remained a musician first. Bowie was not afraid to take a variety of roles because that is what interested him and he flowed in and out of film as he sought fit. His cameo in Zoolander (2001) is one of fun and that should be part Bowie’s legacy in film. David Bowie smiled while challenging the norm.

David Bowie as himself in Bandslam (2009), his last role in a feature film.

No comments:

Post a Comment