It was a bit of a blow to wake up this morning to the news that David Bowie had died just days after turning 69 and releasing his 28th studio album. I'm neither qualified to give, nor interested in giving, you a full run down of his career; the Beeb has that covered, if you're interested.
I was always more intrigued by Bowie's cinematic output than his musical work.* The Man Who Fell to Earth—the story of an alien who comes to Earth in an effort to save his planet from ecological disaster—is the sort of '70s arthouse stuff I'd usually avoid. But it's a movie that works entirely because of Bowie's innately alien nature. His appearance, his mode of speech, his body movements: He didn't need makeup to convince me that he was a lizard-ish man-thing mimicking a person. Unfortunately, the (amazingly good) Criterion release** of this film is out of print, but you should do yourself a favor and check it out on Amazon streaming. Here's the trailer:
The thing I may have liked most about Bowie, though, was the way he evolved into a sort of puckish, prankstery elf.*** The enduring cinematic image of David Bowie in my mind is not him playing Mr. Lawrence or the Goblin King or Nikola Tesla. It's him playing ... David Bowie. His guest appearance in Zoolander, of course, is fantastic:
But my all-time favorite David Bowie moment may have come during his brief guest appearance on Ricky Gervais' Extras:
I laugh out loud literally every time I see this clip—even this morning, as sadness mounted. I just love the idea of David Bowie spinning 90 degrees or so, away from the "chubby little loser" who "sold his soul for fame" and to a conveniently located piano, where he instantly pens a perfectly poppy, catchy tune. I realize that this is (probably) not how he worked, but it's an image of genius that is so simple and so powerful one can't help but think it represents something deeply true.
*Don't get me wrong: as a lifelong consumer of that amorphous genre known as "classic rock," I've always dug his stuff. I love the hits but I don't have terribly strong opinions on his body of work. "Heroes" is his best song.
**Criterion also has an excellent edition of Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence, Bowie's tale of a British POW in a Japanese camp. It's the movie that Unbroken wishes it was.
***For what it's worth, the guys behind The Venture Brothers perfectly captured this sensibility, making a shape-shifting David Bowie the head of the Guild of Calamitous Intent.