David Bowie & the movies

From Elvis to Mick Jagger and Madonna, most successful musicians gravitate to the big screen and David Bowie was no exception.

Relaxed on camera, practised at performing to cue and no stranger to adopting a stage persona, Bowie was a natural fit for cinema.

However his greatest contribution to cinema wasn’t his thespian ability or his music, but we’ll get to that in a bit.

Never one to repeat himself creatively, Bowie’s film career as an actor suffered for the same reason his recording career.

An inclination to experiment saw him explore creative opportunities with varying degrees of success.

His charisma, intelligence and otherworldly demeanour lent itself to portraying outlandish characters such as an alien, a vampire, a goblin king or a mad scientist, respectively in The Man Who Fell To Earth (1976) The Hunger (1983) Labyrinth (1986) and The Prestige (2006).

An audience watching these films would find it easy to suspend their disbelief with Bowie in these roles, the persistent suspicion being Bowie may have been one or all of these things in real life.

It’s far more difficult to imagine the onetime Ziggy Stardust as an ordinary person, so less successful were his attempts to essay straight roles such as his second world war P.O.W. in Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence (1983).

Unable to secure leading roles, there was a small role as Pontius Pilate in Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ (1992) while more typical were cameos such as in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (1992).

There were many TV appearances as himself, including one in the short lived Ian Le Frenais and Dick Clement scripted series, Full Stretch (1993).

Far from the best series from the creators of Whatever happened To The Likely Lads (1973-74) Bowie gamely played himself asleep in the back of a limousine.

Away from acting Bowie contributed the eponymous tracks to Cat People (1982) and Absolute Beginners (1986). Two great songs worthy of better films to accompany them.

The latter is a muddled British musical mostly remembered for launching Patsy Kensit onto an unsuspecting world.

Bowie’s singing and dancing contribution lifts the film in what is far less than the sum of its ambitious parts.

The former is a glossy retread of a 1942 classic horror and though a complete bomb on release, Bowie’s track is so good Quentin Tarantino used it as part of the soundtrack to Inglourious Basterds (2009).

Containing narrative based lyrics and dramatic swells, Bowie’s songs contain a cinematic air.

Plus the singer possessed non of the reluctant fear of, say The Beatles, to allow others to creatively use his music.

As a result Bowie’s tracks have been used in part or in whole in over 450 different movies.

This may not be a record for an individual artist but it feels like one.

Yes this includes concert recordings, documentaries and the like, but it’s still an impressive total.

The royalties accrued may have been a nice pension for a man who never retired but I feel he was at least equally interested to see how his music would be adapted and used.

Movie-makers have rewarded Bowie’s faith with a genre hopping mix of films.

From sci-fi such as Guardians Of The Galaxy (2014) to football drama The Damned United (2009) musicals Moulin Rouge! (2001) thrillers American Psycho (2000) and romcoms Pretty Woman (1990) all have benefitted from Bowie’s music accompaniment.

However it’s certain Bowie considered his greatest contribution to cinema to be his most unique and personal, his son.

Duncan Jones’ debut directorial effort was the tremendous sci-fi thriller Moon (2009). This was followed up by the tricksy time-bending action adventure Source Code (2011). Next up is the much anticipated mega budget big screen adaption of online game Warcraft (2016).

From performing to soundtracks and bequeathing cinema an exciting new directing talent, its an extensive legacy for a man who was primarily a rockstar.

David Bowie. 1947-2016

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