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Hooked to the Silver Screen: “Cracked Actor” Documentary (1975) (Updated post)

I originally posted the following observations about the documentary, Cracked Actor, before I launched the “Hooked to the Silver Screen” series and am re-posting it now with some added thoughts placing it into the larger context of Bowie movies. The documentary is considered by many to be seminal, especially those who have created their own content about Bowie. Clips (perhaps outtakes) appear prominently, for instance, in the 2022 documentary Moonage Daydream. What this one has to offer in particular is a lot of access to Bowie at what was probably his low point. Seemingly paranoid and strung out, Bowie looks like he’s not going to make it to age 30. As noted below, this also benefits from featuring a good amount of Bowie’s music, which I think is important for a movie that’s actually about Bowie.

All that said, Cracked Actor lost a little over the passage of time because it is a highly incomplete story. That’s not a fatal flaw, but also the filmmaking techniques don’t strike me as especially innovative or clever. There’s kind of a, “point the camera on him and let it roll” quality to it, interspersed with footage of Bowie in concert. None of that is bad, but today, if you had to choose between this and Moonage Daydream, the newer film kind of supplants its predecessor.

Good use of Bowie?
I include this question here because I’ve taken to including it in every entry in this series, but of course this was a good use of Bowie. It’s a documentary about Bowie that includes interviews with and footage of Bowie specifically provided for the documentary. Some of the Bowie mythology took form as a result of this film— here we see Bowie demonstrate the cut-up technique and talk about confusing his sense of self with his characters. Today, there are many Bowie documentaries out there that do not include anything like that other than as second-hand reference. So yes: good use of Bowie.

It’s good, it’s a classic, but I’m not giving this my highest rating because there’s something even better out there that occupies similar space. That said, fortunately we can watch both this and Moonage Daydream, which is what I’d recommend. Three out of four Bowies.


Here’s what I posted last year:

The entirety of the 1975 BBC documentary about Bowie, Cracked Actor, appeared in YouTube. I watched it and am posting it here.

A few notes of interest:
– I really like that this pretty short program manages to get in a lot of Bowie’s music, including a good mix of studio recordings overlaying images filmed for the show, and live performances from the Diamond Dogs tour. Most of the songs are not played in full, but that’s ok— the clips are long enough for their purpose.
– Bowie really seems to be at his low point. He’s too skinny and obviously on drugs. He is far from the friendly, relatable “Jonesie” who made the rounds on radio and television in the early 2000s. Here, he doesn’t need to be dressed as Ziggy Stardust to come off like an alien.
– He uses the term, “strange fascination” in conversation. Its famously a term in the song, “Changes.”
– There are clips of him being driven around driven around seedy streets of Los Angeles at a seedy time in history during a period in his life that made him seem like be belonged there.
– He demonstrates starters his “cut up technique” but says he used it actually only used on a couple of songs. He called the technique a “very western tarot.”
– Its also interesting to see and hear the fans (and keeps in mind that today they are in their 70s).

Oh, you’ll note that the title screen says, “Cracked Actor 2013.” The introduction features director Alan Yentob introducing the film from 2013, but the bulk of this video is the 1975 documentary.

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