The good name of David Bowie conjures many different images. Across his several-decade career he has assumed a multitude of different personas, hairstyles and styles; making music, setting trends and becoming an icon. Bowiefest celebrates just one string of many in Bowie’s bow: his film roles. Claiming to be “the UK’s first film festival dedicated to the work on screen of legend David Bowie,” the festival takes over the ICA this weekend to revel in Bowie’s celluloid presence.
Alongside Aladdin Sane, the Thin White Duke and Halloween Jack, Bowie’s role as the Goblin King in Labyrinth is one of his most famous guises. Likewise, The Man Who Fell to Earth has a considerable cult following and that beautiful orange crop is a very strong Bowie ‘look,’ one of my favourites. So while both films are rightly centre-stage of Bowiefest, I want to draw attention to a couple of other gems which are slightly less well-known.
Directed by the recently deceased Tony Scott, The Hunger is a really slick thriller; the costumes and sets are meticulously put together and the cold colour palette and sharp framing make for a very visually striking film. Not to mention the striking good looks of its stars: Catherine Deneuve is a devastating beautiful vampire who offers her young lovers the chance of immortality and Bowie is her blood-sucking companion who discovers that eternal life doesn’t necessarily mean eternal youth. He starts to age rapidly and is forced to seek help from a doctor, played by Susan Sarandon. The film is particularly famous for the on-screen chemistry between Deneuve and Sarandon and their sexy seduction scenes.
Featuring a title track of the same name, composed and performed by Bowie, Absolute Beginners is a 1986 British rock musical, directed by Julien Temple. Set in the West End, the film depicts London on the cusp of the 1960s but it just looks and feels like the 80s. Bowie plays a suave advertising executive who takes the lead character, an aspiring photographer, under his wing as he navigates the changing youth culture. The plot and some of the numbers are slightly bizarre, but there’s something charming about it. For me, musicals are at their best when they feature extravagant sets (oh yes, I am a Busby Berkley fan) and though Absolute Beginners isn’t fantastic, it does have some brilliant scenes – particularly the number below which features a giant typewriter, copious use of a smoke machine and Bowie tap dancing.
Other films screening at Bowiefest: Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence, set in a Japanese prisoner of war camp during WWII and Christine F which features Berlin-era Bowie concert performances. Full details of the film programme can be found here.
Alongside the Bowie film programme, Bowiefest features several special events including a lunchtime talk from Woody Woodmansey, drummer of David Bowie’s backing-band the Spiders from Mars and a Q&A with director Nicholas Roeg, who worked with Roger Corman and David Lean before directing Don’t Look Now and The Man Who Fell to Earth.
Closing Bowiefest is an evening featuring Alan Yentob in conversation about his infamous 1974 documentary Cracked Actor which followed Bowie on his Diamond Dogs tour across America. Made for the BBC, the documentary features several performances from the tour interspersed with Yentob’s interviews with Bowie, often in the back of a limo. The film has gained particular notoriety due to the fragile mental state Bowie exhibits in his interviews and Yentob has said he will be remembered for this doc above anything else in his career. Unsurprisingly this event has already sold out.
The 3-day festival opens on Friday 31st August with a celebration of Bowie’s music. A screening of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders From Mars, which captured a 1973 concert at the Hammersmith Apollo has also already sold out, but the ICA bar is open late for a Bowie-centred DJ set. Be sure to dress as your favourite Bowie.
The only downside of Bowiefest is that only Bowie’s starring roles have made the programme, which is a shame because some of my favourite Bowie-on-film moments are his cameo parts. Though such roles may have been fleeting, I think they deserve honourable mention so I have assembled a little youtube gallery for your viewing pleasure. So to whet your appetite for Bowiefest, here’s David Bowie…
…in a very brief excerpt of his crowning cameo amongst a sea of stars in Ben Stiller’s Zoolander:
…and in David Lynch’s Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. Characteristically weird and completely fantastic:
Bowiefest, curated by Natasha Dack and Oli Harbottle,runs from 31st August to 2nd September at the ICA, all the information about the festival can be found here.