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Hooked to the Silver Screen I 16 I Ziggy Stardust the Motion Picture (1973-1979-1983-2023-20??)

I’ll start with an admission: I haven’t watched this film all the way through in quite a while, despite a worldwide release of a “restored” version last year. This is in part due to last year’s release not showing at local drive-ins (I still don’t go to indoor movie theaters). But the bigger reason is that clips from the film have become commonplace on YouTube, which will frequently feed me such clips as a way of giving me a video of Bowie singing particular songs. In some respects that what this is— footage of Bowie in concert that can be broken up into individual videos. Taken together, it’s a concert film, documenting Bowie’s infamous last concert as Ziggy Stardust. Sure, there are some backstage scenes thrown in, but at the end of the day it is a video of the concert, and that’s a good thing.

The Motion Picture is, to my knowledge, the best and only video document of an entire Ziggy-era Bowie concert. I’ve read criticism that the live album, Santa Monica ‘72 documents a superior performance, and to some degree I agree with that assessment, but that is entirely audio, and here I’m, commenting on the actual motion picture. Plus, stipulating that the Santa Monica show is better should take nothing away from this show. Bowie performed as Ziggy for less than two years. He was right to retire the character before it got old, so the footage that makes up this movie is a treasure. More than 50 years after the concert, it still comes off as daring, edgy and even radical. I doubt anything from 1923 would have seemed that way at the time of the concert.

Multiple versions of this movie exist out there and have been rolled out at different times and different places. I listed the title in the style of “Aladdin Sane 1913-1938-197?” because I can imagine it returning in still different forms in the future. That said, at its heart are a series of performances that can be broken up, reordered or watched individually.

I remember being disappointed the first time I saw The Motion Picture because I was hoping for some sort of narrative story, like Bowie playing Ziggy in a drama or even a musical but not “just” a concert. I don’t know what I was thinking—- that kind of thing could potentially have been terrible, while the actual movie has become all the more valuable in the years since Bowie truly left the stage (amazingly, his last, full concert for real took place 20 years ago this year, though he appeared on stage at least once after that, just not as part of a full concert).

Is there more to The Motion Picture than footage of the 1973 concert? Yes. I have seen subsequent films of Bowie concerts, and those too have their own value, but there’s a little more artistry in the visual presentation and editing in this movie. Most notable is the murky, red-tinted lighting. I’m on the fence as to whether this is a feature or a flaw. I suppose, given the choice between a HD version and what we actually got, I’d choose the HD version. But there is an otherworldly quality to seeing Bowie, in Ziggy costume and makeup, emerging from the inky shadows and performing in a dim, reddish light.

At the end of the day, there isn’t much to compare this against. I’ll leave it to others who know more about moviemaking to put this up against other concert movies featuring other performers. This summer I saw the Taylor Swift concert movie, and as a visual spectacle it was far superior to the Ziggy movie. And while I enjoyed it and came to better appreciate why Taylor Swift has such an enthusiastic fan base, I obviously like Bowie much more. So comparing the two movies, beyond comparing their technical qualities, misses the main point of either (it would take an awfully dedicated, detached movie critic to sit through either without any affection for the performers).

The better thing to compare this movie against is future iterations of David Bowie. Bowie would go on to change his appearance, his musical style — even his voice. There’s a thread connecting Bowie ‘73 with the Bowie I first saw during the Glass Spider Tour in 1987, but I could believe it if someone was surprise it was the same person.

I could also believe, as I’ve read and heard, that all some people know of Bowie is Labyrinth. I can also believe that some people like other versions of Bowie more than Ziggy. I can even believe— though this is harder— that someone out there likes Bowie as an actor but not as a singer. But I have to imagine for the vast majority of people who would be interested in seeing a David Bowie concert film, Ziggy Stardust: The Motion Picture is a pretty special thing.

Good use of Bowie?
Bowie in concert as Ziggy? What do you think. Of course this is a good use of Bowie. There’s a fair chance that if someone says, “David Bowie,” you think of the kind of thing documented by this movie. Arguably, this is the very best use of Bowie in any movie that was theatrically released.

Has to be four out of four Bowies. The visuals could have been clearer. The concert captured could have been (even) better. The sound quality, especially on some of the earlier versions of the film was somewhat shaky. But there is no other concert films of Bowie as Ziggy. Nothing else comes close. So yes, this gets the highest rating.


And to see where Ziggy Stardust: The Motion Picture fits in the ranking summary, click here.

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