skip to Main Content

Hooked to the Silver Screen I 10 I Shot! The Psycho-Spiritual Mantra of Rock (2017)

Here’s one I didn’t know about until I came across it on Prime Video— an excellent documentary about photographer Mick Rock, “the man who shot the 70s.” Rock (that’s his real name), who died in 2021, was probably the premier photographic chronicler of rock music, and Bowie was one of his central subjects. Accordingly, Bowie’s voice, image and music appear prominently in the film.

I thoroughly enjoyed this documentary. The real stars of the movie are Rock’s amazing photographs. He seemed to be responsible for some of the most recognizable pictures of Bowie, Lou Reed, Iggy Pop, Debbie Harry, Johnny Rotten, Queen and just about anyone who came out of the 1970s music scene, especially the glam and punk periods (though he continued shooting at least through the time this film was made in 2017).

There’s a story here, and it’s familiar. Rock is an artist of extraordinary talent. As he rises in the ranks of his profession, he gets caught up in the rock and roll lifestyle and becomes addicted to cocaine. He eventually had multiple heart attacks before being “saved” (in ways that aren’t fully explained) by a couple of friends whose role in his life is only touched upon.

Rock himself participated in the documentary and is essentially its narrator. Most of the footage is archival or features Rock talking to the documentarian, however there’s a recurring dramatized motif of Rock on an operating table. This motif serves as an ominous portent of his hitting “rock” bottom, allowing for the redemption arc.

All of this is an excuse to show us Rock’s pictures and get him to talk about how they came about, how he approached photography and what he thought of his subjects.

Rock held Bowie and Lou Reed in especially high regard. The movie was dedicated to their memory (Bowie had died the year before and Reed died in 2013). The promotional image of the documentary seems to feature Rock wearing Bowie’s iconic lighting bolt, but if so, it is obscured by Rock’s ever-present sunglasses.

The video features some clips of Bowie talking to Rock. This was the context of Bowie making his quasi-famous observation, “The artist is strictly a figment of people’s imagination. I really believe that. We are the original false prophets. We are the gods. We want it all. You know, we want all the adulation and the people to read the lyrics and everything – just to play the game. We don’t exist.” I understand this observation to be of a piece with Bowie’s larger philosophy that art doesn’t have objective meaning, but allows for the audience’s personal interpretation. Here, he extends that concept to the artists themselves — David Bowie is what his fans make him out to be.

Rock thought of Bowie as a special subject. I jotted down a quote, which might not be exact, that Bowie’s “level of intelligence elevated [his] pictures to a higher level.” Bowie (as well as Debbie Harry) seemed to have a sense of how the picture was going to look (unlike Freddie Mercury, who needed more coaching). Rock said of Bowie and Harry, that it was impossible to take a bad picture of either.

By the time of the documentary, Rock’s work was being exhibited in art galleries. He viewed this as ironic: “We were supposed to be rebels and outsiders, but nowadays we have been absorbed by the modern establishment.” This observation is consistent with what I’ve been seeing of Bowie since his death, that upon leaving us he ceased being a person and has since become part of our cultural fabric. Well, Mick Rock was still alive when his work began showing up in museums (actually, so too was Bowie), but I think he was seeing more or less the same thing.

Good use of Bowie?

This is the first movie in the series in which Bowie appears, but not as an actor. Nonethless, he’s a big part of the movie, though not its central subject. The movie came out a year after Bowie died, which was a period of heightened interest in Bowie (a period which, arguably, we’re still in). Nonetheless, I think Bowie’s appearance here is proportional to his role in Mick Rock’s career. A lot of what we think of when we think of Bowie, especially from the early 70s, came to us from Rock’s camera. The movie would be lacking something objectively vital to Mick Rock’s story had it omitted Bowie.

Also, the few snippets of Bowie’s music included in the film are important. As interesting as Bowie looked, and as great a subject as he was for Rock, his significance would have been skewed without any inclusion of his music. I’ve seen at least one documentary about Bowie that didn’t include any of his music, which made the whole thing a weird missed opportunity.

So, yes, this was a good and even necessary use of Bowie.

Rating: I thoroughly enjoyed this documentary and have nothing bad to say about it. I am reluctant to give it the highest rating, but I’m not quite sure why. Nonetheless, I’m going to stay on the safe side and give this one gets three out of four Bowies.

🧑‍🎤👩🏿‍🎤👨‍🎤

Tally

👩🏻‍🎤🧑‍🎤👨‍🎤👩🏿‍🎤 Four Bowie movies reviewed thus far
Labyrinth (1986)
The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)

👩🏻‍🎤🧑‍🎤👨‍🎤 Three Bowie movies
The Prestige (2006)
Basquait (1996)
The Snowman (1982)
Zoolander (2001)
Shot! The Psycho-spiritual mantra of Rock (2017)

👩🏻‍🎤🧑‍🎤 Two Bowie movies
Into the Night (1985)

👩🏻‍🎤 One Bowie movies
Just a Gigolo (1978)
Yellowbeard (1983)

Hooked to the Silver Screen is my series of commentaries about movies in which Bowie appeared. The name of the series comes from a line in the song, “Life on Mars.”

Back To Top