by John Linton Roberson
I have always loved David Bowie, particularly in his deft ability to use image as inspiration. There's very few rockers with the sustained inventiveness--and versatility--Bowie displayed at least in his first twelve years. Same with Roxy Music, and Iggy Pop, and Lou Reed.Do not for a second mistake this film as their story, and you may actually enjoy it.
"NOT the Story of David Bowie: Still Interesting"
Elements of all of these are mixed together, true. But like a stew, with one chunk soaked in the juices of another. What an unfortunate choice of words!...
Oddly, the main signature tunes of the supposed Bowie(and perhaps Bolan) figure, Brian Slade(what a clunker of a name), are all from Roxy Music's first album, as though that's all Todd Haynes had ever heard. The music, almost throughout, by the way, is incredible. The Shudder to Think pastisches of Bowie are all right if you don't lusten very hard. Lots of really good Roxy, the only Eno(ironically) I've ever heard in a movie, and oh BOY, some damn good Iggy Pop.
And frankly, I wished Iggy had been the main figure here. Jonathan Rhys-Myers as Slade is mostly a pouting, preening little wretch who actually thinks he's as interesting as the director apparently finds him. I scratch my head. Why, I wonder, doesn't he take that wax set of novelty lips from his mouth? Oh, they're HIS? Nope, those have to be implants.I found myself wanting to see the opening scene, in which Brian is "shot" at a concert(it was a hoax and drove all those who used to like him away), again in slow motion. Just one more Eurotrash Hollywood pretty boy.
But when Ewan MacGregor is first seen performing(he does "TV Eye" and "Gimme Danger", and very convincingly), he grabs your attention and will not let go. He IS Iggy, in the same sense Gary Oldman was Sid Vicious; his performance is so well-studied and done with such obvious fun that you forget it's a performance. The movie never reaches such a blisteringly intense point as his rendition of "TV Eye," which is everything Oliver Stone wished he'd done in the Doors. MacGregor obviously loves what he's doing and shares that.
Some real flaws: There's this character called Jack Fairy about whom a great deal is said by voice-over at the beginning(with a totally unrelated and stupid bit about Oscar Wilde), who was some kind of inspiration for glam(the general feel and joy of which the movie does articulate gorgeously), but it's never said how, nor does he speak, nor perform till the end, at a tribute to Slade, singing a Roxy song that's being presented as a Slade song...ANYWAY...If he's so important, why does Hayne give us no reason why we should give a rat's ass about him, except that he tells us we should? This smells like a very poorly edited script to me.
Christian Bale, as a gay British journalist for whom Slade was a great encourager for his coming out--which still seems rather closeted--investigates the hoax on its 10th anniversary, in a structure inexcusably stolen whole and undigested from CITIZEN KANE. That's just lazy. Bale looks angry every minute of the film and you really want to either reassure him or slug him.
Nevertheless, a lot of my gay friends have told me Bowie's example did play a part in giving them the courage to come out--though it's in doubt if he was himself even really bisexual--and I don't think it'd be out of place for me to say that makes it an important subject, and a particular scene in which a teenage Bale's parents catch him masturbating over a picture of Slade, a sort of horrific inversion of PORTNOY'S COMPLAINT, a glimpse of the personal emotional power the subject has for Haynes is seen, but not focused on as much as it could've been. The film, like its subject, cares very little about substance, which may be appropriate. It does have sleek, glossy style to spare, and I'd say that, behind THE ICE STORM and BOOGIE NIGHTS, this is a worthy 70s revival flick, if you like that sort of thing.See it, but you'll only want to see Ewan MacGregor's scenes more than once. Till we have a good concert video of Iggy Pop, this is the closest substitute. It's not exactly bad. It's just not exactly anything.
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=190&reviewer=151
originally posted: 09/04/99 21:41:11