Shock Entertainment recently announced the DVD release of their documentary David Bowie: The Man Who Stole the World, profiling the life and legacy of David Bowie.
It may be first cab off what will surely be an endless supply of Bowie tributes but despite its rather swift genesis, limited scope and rather short length ‘…The Man Who Stole the World’ does manage to succeed on some levels. Obviously though with any documentary the ability to tap the source or subject or those very close to them makes all the difference so here we come from a different angle.
As we all know Bowie had many of his own official or semi-official projects in recent years so what we get here is rather simple fare: a nice and concise timeline punctuated with soundbites from those who cared and who Bowie managed to touch their lives in some way. There aren’t a host of big names making glib statements shot with hyperbolae here, rather than take that stance it’s just more a fan level commentary which is cool to a point until you see the same unknown faces crop up multiple times.
Where it succeeds is that the documentary does feature plenty of exclusive footage and interviews spanning Bowie’s lengthy career, Bowie was of course one of the great innovators and perhaps the most successful mainstream artist ever to meld art to rock. His last album landed on his 69th birthday 2 days before his death and whilst this might be the first documentary to hit after his passing it won’t be the worst you’ll see.
Where it is bound to fail I guess is the scope – and rather than lean towards the ‘big times’ ‘…The Man Who Stole the World’ does take rather an even handed approach to his recorded output which is the timeline the narrative is strongly glued to. Of course there’s a good fix of Ziggy and his glam rock, and Bowie’s post-Ziggy reinvention through art and drugs, all interspersed with memories and a nice telling of the story of Bowie’s eyes from the man who threw the punch…
It’s all really about what his music meant music lovers though, and there is plenty of heart-felt hyperbole. BUT there are also some telling commentaries on Bowie himself even if you have to join the dotes yourself: from the business savvy timing of ‘Space Oddity’ five days before the launch of the moon mission, to the carelessness and lack of concern for budgets on the expensive sets and ‘Cracked actor’ documentary, on a diet of cocaine and milk. It’s that brazenness and also almost dangerous lack of regard for survival – make yourself huge then kill of Ziggy, reemerge triumphant as the Thin White Duke then come back with the minimalist Berlin trilogy – experimenting with emotions in pop that makes Bowie the most intriguing of artists.
Sometimes it fails though – not many really thought that ‘Tin Machine’ was the precursor to grunge did they? No it’s just rock and roll. The latter part of Bowie’s life and career also takes a bit of a glossing over – here was a man who effectively disappeared for years – releasing double the number of albums in the 70’s as he did in the 80’s or 90’s, just two releases in the 00’s and ten years without an album till 2013’s ‘The Next Day’.
The man in those last 13 years was a mystery: one thing I never realised, for example, was that his last show was back in April 2005 and last appearance onstage with Alicia Keys in November of that year. He also turned down a Knighthood and had six heart attacks in final years.
Music though had to come back and it was fitting that he chose to have his final say with music: ‘Black Star’ was a swansong, and yes it is full of thinly veiled references to mortality but in ‘Lazarus’ it’s not a closet as a coffin surely it’s a wardrobe as a return to the womb? Left unsaid there were five more songs demoed. Bowie was cremated in New York with no family and friends, a private man and a private end for a great artist who had once been the most public of figures.
DAVID BOWIE – THE MAN WHO STOLE THE WORLD is released for the first time in Australia on DVD through Shock Entertainment on 6th July 2016.