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Hooked to the Silver Screen: The Hunger Television Show (Updated) (1999)

I originally posted the main text of this on February 8th, 2023, before I launched the “Hooked to the Silver Screen” commentary on Bowie as an actor. I’m updating the post by adding the now-standard features of the series— “Good use of Bowie?” And, “Rating.” Because you might have already read the main text, I’m going to do this slightly out of order and answer those two questions, which constitute the new content, first:

Good use of Bowie?
Yes! Bowie plays a character very much like David Bowie in 1999. Since Bowie ‘99 essentially was a character, this show can be thought of as just another appearance of the same guy you might have seen in concert. Actually— pre Hours… So Bowie’s appearance here was probably the last gasp of the 1. Outside/Earthling version of David Bowie. The show is of the horror genre, kind of like The Twilight Zone, but the Bowie episode has some subtle humor, including self-references to how he must have felt like he was perceived at that moment in time. Those references are self depreciating, and actually, I think Bowie had already gotten over the hump of being thought of as a has-been by ‘99, so he might have had enough rejuvenation under his belt to allow for a little self-fun. Bowie would go on to play the equivalent of the Rod Serling part for the rest of Season Two of the show, where he’d appear for a few minutes up front to introduce the premise of what are otherwise free-standing episodes. Bowie’s small part in these future episodes are not bad uses of Bowie, but they are pretty low impact and neither improve nor worsen the quality of the rest of the episode. But for the Episode in which Bowie stars, its a good use of him

Rating.
This is a minor work but it’s good for what it is. I’m going to give it three Bowies. Does that mean it’s a better piece of art than, say, Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence? Well, it’s not as major a work, but I found it more enjoyable to watch and not as much of an investment of time or emotion. So, three out of four.

🧑‍🎤👩🏻‍🎤👨‍🎤

To see where this fits along with Bowie’s other roles, click HERE.
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And here’s what I wrote in February of ‘23:

Bowie famously starred on Broadway in The Elephant Man, as well as playing the lead or major supporting roles in a handful of movies. But he also made many cameos and acted in other less-well known projects, including those that are unfamiliar to me. Along those lines, I was surprised to find out that Bowie hosted the second season (1999-2000) of an anthology horror show called, The Hunger, and starred in the season’s first episode.

I watched the Bowie episode and intend to slowly watch at least the entirely of the second season. Because that’s all I’ve seen, I cannot tell if there is any connection besides the name and Bowie’s involvement with the movie of the same name. The story of the Bowie episode is totally unrelated. It is, however, similar to the concept behind Bowie’s 1995 album, 1. Outside, which is one of my favorites.

The album in part deals with the concept of murder and disfigurement as art. This abstract concept was depicted in one or two of Bowie’s videos at the time. Here he takes the idea one step further by portraying an artist who…pushes boundaries.

The existence of this show and this episode are one of these things that I seem to continue to find that I didn’t know existed. Unfortunately, Bowie does not sing — his character is a visual artist. That said, he clearly uses his character as a stand-in for himself. He clearly wants fans to think the entirety of the episode is about David Bowie wrestling with what happened to his career. At one point he confesses, “the problem with art is you constantly have to top yourself.” At another, a character we later learn to be, for lack of a better explanation, I’ll call an alternate personality, hectors the Bowie character for outstaying his welcome as an artist. “Icon status aside” the character had devolved into “fat Elvis.” Some fans might remember Bowie’s derogatory comment about the widely-panned 1979 movie he starred in, Just a Gigolo, saying it was, “all my Elvis movies rolled into one.”

Indeed, Bowie had hit a point in his career where he was self-aware of no longer being cool. Leading up to the 1993 release of his album, Black Tie White Noise, promoters sent a single of one of the album’s songs, “Pallas Athena,” to dance clubs, where it was a minor hit. The catch was that Bowie’s name wasn’t on the disc and his voice was distorted to the point of being unrecognizable. Bowie decided not to iclude a track on the album, “Lucy Can’t Dance,’ for fear that the word “dance” was too associated with Let’s Dance and his 80s persona.

Yet, as a naval gazing exercise, the timing of The Hunger television show is somewhat curious. By 1999, Bowie had emerged from what has widely been regarded as his creative nadir. Black Tie White Noise, The Buddha of Suburbia, 1. Outside and Earthling were already behind him, and while none of those albums were embraced as the return of Ziggy Stardust, they were each called his best since Scary Monsters (a designation which itself has become kind of an in-joke…I think…) So Bowie might have been using the show to thumb his nose to what he had been hearing about himself a few years earlier. Perhaps he felt that he had regained ground as a respected artist and could afford to look back at the fate he had escaped.

But maybe not. Bowie’s albums from the mid-90s were better received and were at the very least treated more seriously by critics than his output from the previous decade. Nonetheless, in life he found it impossible to release new material that was not received in relation to what had come before, which might have been frustrating for someone so devoted to reinvention. “The problem with art is you constantly have to top yourself,” indeed.

All that said, it is certainly possible to watch this one episode and not have any idea who David Bowie is. The surface story is not about the actual David Bowie and the subtexts could easily be lost. Is it a great piece of television? No. Its on level with a typical episode of The X Files or a more graphic episode of The Twilight Zone, which is not to say it is bad. It’s not that, either. I was delighted to find it and will continue watching episodes from the season in which Bowie does not act, but serves the in Rod Serling role of setting the stage for a story of the week.

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