‘Moonage Daydream’ Brett Morgen on David Bowie Mystery

Brett Morgen rushes across his desk to grab his phone.

“I want to play you something,” says the documentary maker behind “Moonage Daydream,” a trippy and riveting new film about David Bowie. Morgen recounts his first three weeks on the project, when he sat alone in this room on Los Angeles’ Westside and listened to Bowie’s entire catalog in the order the songs were written. He points to the buzzing outro of “Silly Boy Blue,” from Bowie’s 1967 self-titled debut album, and explains that the late rock legend composed it “at a time when he was contemplating entering a monastery to study Buddhism is filled with Buddhist references and ideas of reincarnation.

Next, Morgen plays the title track to Bowie’s “Blackstar,” which was released two days before his death at age 69 in 2016. “Hear that?” he asks, pointing to a similar falling melodic figure in the middle of the song. “I had the stems for both, and I put them in the Avid on top of each other,” he says, referring to the editing platform. « Aligned Perfectly. Here he is in one of his last songs – a song about leaving and passing – and it echoes one of his earliest songs. Morgen, 53, shakes his head. “It was such an important way for me to understand that it was never about tomorrow for Bowie. It was about being in the moment.

That’s the lesson – part of Bowie’s Tao – Morgen says he wanted to make “Moonage Daydream,” a “non-linear, non-biographical, non-timestamp film,” as the director proudly describes it, which dips the viewer deep into the wake of Bowie’s imagination through an intricate (and sometimes frenetic) collage of archival footage and audio, much of it sourced from a private reserve to which Morgen was the first outsider to to access. With no talking head interviews and little about the singer’s personal life, “Moonage Daydream,” which opened Friday in Imax and other formats, is hardly a conventional music documentary of the type that has thrived on streaming services these last time. But then Bowie was hardly a conventional musician: a stylistic chameleon who never settled on a signature sound, he circumvented fixed notions of gender and identity decades before it was fashionable and seemed to relish efforts to figure out when he was serious and when he was. joke.

“Bowie wasn’t about dates and facts,” says Morgen, whose previous films include 2002’s “The Kid Stays in the Picture,” about Hollywood producer Robert Evans, and “Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck.” , a 2015 portrait of the late Nirvana singer. “[Bowie] was mysterious, enigmatic. And I didn’t want to break that. I was trying to create an experience, and what is the opposite of an experience? I would say it is information.

His approach drew polarized reactions. “Moonage Daydream” won accolades at the Cannes Film Festival in May, where Morgen memorably danced down the red carpet to Bowie’s “Let’s Dance.” Carlos Aguilar of The Times said the film “takes us on a cosmic dance of intoxicating imagery and timeless music”. But other reviewers called it “indulgent” and “incomplete”.

Count Courtney Love as a fan. “Brett is a genius,” says the singer from Hole, who, as Cobain’s widow, took part in “Montage of Heck.” “He did the f— from ‘Moonage Daydream.’ I think it’s a masterpiece – like seeing ‘Fantasia’ when I was a kid I’ve never felt so stoned watching a movie Love dismisses the reviews the movie suffers because it slips on so many details of Bowie’s story.”You don’t have to know anything about David Bowie and you’ll come out of the theater inspired to be creative,” she says.

Morgen, who grew up in the San Fernando Valley, met Bowie in 2007 when he offered the then semi-retired musician a different film project: a three-part narrative/non-fiction hybrid in which Bowie would star different versions of himself, including one who “travels around the Himalayas on an elephant with a rolled-up movie projector showing footage to the last people on Earth who had never heard of Bowie”.

The director shrugs. “It was a performance piece,” he says. “Admittedly half-baked.” The film never took off, but Bowie and his business manager, Bill Zysblat, were intrigued, according to Morgen; when he and Zysblat reconnected after Bowie’s death, the manager finally agreed to give Morgen access to Bowie’s collection of millions of pieces of material from his half-century career.

“Bowie wasn’t about dates and facts,” says director Brett Morgen. “He was mysterious, enigmatic. I was trying to create an experience, and what is the opposite of an experience? I would say it is information.

(Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times)

Just going through things — photos, paintings, TV interviews, concert footage — took two years, Morgen says. “I would come across a [recording of] the 17th show in a row on the Outside tour,” he says of Bowie’s 1995 album, “and I was watching the whole thing even though I knew I couldn’t use it in the movie. But you never know what something might shed light on. Having finally absorbed it all, he set about writing a screenplay, which he called an “arduous and traumatic process” involving months of writer’s block; at one point the married father of three even suffered a heart attack before finding his way to a structure he says was inspired by ‘The Iliad’. “Chaos and fragmentation were the guiding lines of David’s work,” Morgen says, and so they became his watchwords for “Moonage Daydream.”

The film works in part because of the stunning piece of source material – nothing more than a magnificent performance of “Heroes” filmed at London’s Earls Court in 1978 that makes you feel like you’re practically on stage with Bowie. . (Morgen says he’s spent hundreds of hours color-correcting decades-old footage.) “I like to think of my movies as theme park rides where you get all the sights, sounds and perfumes,” says the director, who identifies his two most crucial influences as Disneyland and the Pink Floyd Laserium at Griffith Observatory.

In its deeply immersive quality, “Moonage Daydream” – with a soundtrack of classic and newer Bowie tunes newly assembled by the singer’s longtime producer Tony Visconti – shares something with Peter Jackson’s “Get Back” docuseries, every episode that Morgen says he woke up at 5 a.m. to see them come out one by one last Thanksgiving. “I can see the comparison,” he says, “even though I like the grit more than Peter. I thought he completely degreased the Beatles footage, which I couldn’t quite fathom because I love 16mm. He’s laughing. “Also, ‘Get Back’ is cinema verité in its purest form, and ‘Moonage’ is anything but.”

As with The Beatles stakeholders and Jackson’s film, Bowie’s estate — which includes his widow, model Iman (who is seen in the doc) and his son, filmmaker Duncan Jones — gave “Moonage their blessing.” Daydream,” a fact that was played into the film’s marketing, though Morgen says he’s not sure it’s a selling point.

A black and white image of David Bowie sitting in a bedroom.

David Bowie in a scene from Brett Morgen’s 2022 film “Moonage Daydream.”


“Why would anyone promote something as sanctioned or official?” he asks. “I had this conversation with Asif [Kapadia]who directed Amy Winehouse’s 2015 documentary “Amy,” which was heavily criticized by the late singer’s family. “I was like, ‘I don’t understand why Amy’s dad not liking your movie is a negative thing,'” Morgen says. “If someone made a movie about me that my mom approved of, that would be awful.” Still, the director says Zysblat gave him the final cut on “Moonage Daydream” and every decision was his — including his choice not to dig into Bowie’s drug-taking history.

“I’ve seen some rumors that the estate is clearly the reason I didn’t get into cocaine,” he says of a perceived deference to Bowie’s survivors, who sold the catalog of singer songwriting at Warner Music this year for $250 million. “But I thought it was pretty obvious at times that David was stoned. I didn’t need to exaggerate. Morgen says he’s well used to reactions that his movies don’t make things clear enough. He recalls being called into Barry Diller’s office after the mogul saw an early cut of Diller-funded ‘The Kid Stays in the Picture’.” He said, ‘That’s boring – you have to put some I said, ‘If I put interviews in there, it becomes an ‘E! Real Hollywood story.’ He says, ‘You fix it or I burn it down.'”

Still, Morgen insists he enjoys the kind of straightforward musical documentary he explicitly avoided doing with “Moonage Daydream.” “I loved the Bee Gees documentary,” he says of Frank Marshall’s 2020 HBO film. “I cried watching it because I to wish I could do the thing where you run through this very Wikipedia checkpoint list. It seems a lot less traumatic than being alone in this building for seven years with this equipment.

He also loves rock biopics, including “Bohemian Rhapsody,” which he says he’s seen more than a dozen times (and whose Oscar-winning sound team he hired for “Moonage Daydream”). “Rock stars have always been our superheroes, haven’t they? So we’re gonna have all the g—artists in one of these movies until they start tanking. And I’m all Totally agree, I prefer to see them rather than the Marvel universe, which I find a bit tedious.

Morgen’s only complaint about the recent glut of rock movies is that it means he has to manage audience expectations for his work. “If you show up to my movie expecting something like this, you’re going to have a miserable time,” he says. “It’s your Achilles heel when trying to create a new genre.” He’s laughing. “It sounds pretentious. But then, when David was called pretentious, he said, ‘I have a mastery of the school of pretentiousness.’

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