When I first listened to The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust, everything froze in a cosmic suspension. The part-sci-fi, part-storytelling, masterpiece has the supernatural ability of a rocket launching you into a listening experience which is lyrically and sonically, transcendent. Although radically different, the album A Larum by Johnny Flynn is also an example of gifted storytelling – his melodic folk songs transport you to a wonderland full of eccentric characters. Hearing that an upcoming film would combine the best of both singers, it was hard not to be excited.
Yet, when news broke that Bowie’s family had rejected the film and denied the rights to his music, I had a sinking feeling that it was destined for a biopic black hole…
Stardust is a slipshod biopic based on David Bowie’s 1971 trip to the US where he found inspiration for his alternative supernatural persona – Ziggy Stardust. The film is directed by Gabriel Range and stars Johnny Flynn as a young David Bowie. The film starts promisingly; it shows a moonage daydream – an on the money mash-up between Space Oddity and Kubrick’s 2001: Space Odyssey. However, as the movie progresses, inventive scenes such as these are all too scarce.
The film is set just after the release of The Man Who Sold The World, an album which has largely failed to take off. Tony Defries, Bowie’s manager at the time, summons Bowie into his office in the film’s opening, telling him to try to “break” America, if he wants to become a star.
“Who are you, David?” Defries asks, “Are you an artist? A spaceman? A madman?” This fear of madness runs throughout the whole film, using the case of his half-brother Terry Burns, who suffered from schizophrenia, as a means to do so. Terry exists as a way for Bowie to confront fears of who he is (David Jones) to make way for who he could become (Ziggy Stardust). The film was right to address the impact of Terry’s schizophrenia on Bowie and his work, though you can’t help but feel the whole thing was over-dramatized.