David Bowie was such a huge creative talent, with a career spanning such a long period of time that it just didn’t feel right to ignore his recent passing. He put his energy into so many different art forms, from books to art to music to film; and so whilst he is mainly known as a musician, he also had a decent career as an actor.
FILM 1: THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH (1976)
Well, Bowie’s first starring role was in Nicolas Roeg’s seventies sci-fi film THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH (1976). This is the story of an alien’s surreal experiences after its spaceship crash lands on Earth. Bowie, by now very famous for his Ziggy Stardust persona, plays Thomas Jerome Newton a fragile, increasingly emaciated dandy. This role tied in with the ‘Thin White Duke’ image of his Station to Station LP.
Interesting side-note: the original theatrical release trailer, which set up the story of the film in a rather enigmatic way, was voiced by none other than William Shatner.
By his own admission, Bowie was heavily using cocaine during this period and the combination of his wasted body, subtle performance and Roeg’s jarring, startling visuals make for one of the strangest sci-fi films of the 70s. An image of Bowie from the film was used the next year on the cover of the of his 1977 album ‘Low’.
FILM 2: LABYRINTH (1986)
Whilst Bowie was not at his musical peak during the mid-80s, he was further progressing his acting character in the 1986 Jim Henson family film, LABYRINTH. It’s a film adored by anyone who was the perfect age on release, (myself included). It’s a simple fairytale story, about a young girl (Jennifer Connelly) who must go on a quest through a magical maze to find and bring home her baby brother from the clutches of Bowie’s ‘Goblin King’, called Jareth.
The film had a stellar creative team behind it: script by Monty Pythons’ Terry Jones, puppet creatures by the Jim Henson Creature Shop, (the talent behind The Muppets, Sesame Street and Fraggle Rock, to name a few); with Jim himself in the directors’ chair. LABYRINTH is often put into one of two camps: a fantasy quest, involving action, strange creatures and magic or, a fairy-tale love story; where a young Cinderella type, finds her Prince Charming, only to discover he’s actually more villain than ‘the one’. Much of the charm of the film is down to Bowie, although the real stars of the show are, obviously the amazing puppets. Through-out the film Bowie wears many weird and wonderful costumes, as elaborate and fancy as you’d expect – but all with exceedingly tight leggings that left little to the imagination. That is why many link seeing this film with a certain sexual awakening. If you don’t believe me … Google it!
Time to move on, perhaps.
FILM 3: THE PRESTIGE (2006)
This film was missed by a lot of people when it was released. The logline of the story might sound simple enough: Two stage magicians engage in competitive one-upmanship in an attempt to create the ultimate stage illusion. But, as you would expect from a tale of illusionists, it’s not quite that simple. Bowie plays Nikola Tesla, (as in *the* Tesla – the real-life scientist), in a marvelously understated performance.
Christian Bale and Andy Serkis also star, with Christopher Nolan directing; but, for me, it was Bowies’ performance that was the most watchable. It’s a short role, and the accent is, at first, a little odd … but then again, a creative endeavor from Bowie that isn’t a little ‘odd’ wouldn’t really be what we’ve come to expect and to love from the man.
- Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence (1983) – The prisoner of war film with that amazing, haunting score.
- Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (1992) – playing a missing FBI agent, who returns with stories of the ‘Man from Another Place’ in David Lynch’s underrated movie of the TV show
- The Snowman (1982) – Where he features as the adult version of the child in the Raymond Briggs Christmas classic.
- As himself in Ricky Gervais’ EXTRAS – with a superbly funny cameo where he composes an offensive song about Gervais’ character, as he’s sat there!
- Andy Serkis
- Christian Bale
- Christopher Nolan
- David Bowie
- David Lynch
- Fraggle Rock
- Hugh Jackman
- Jennifer Connelly
- Jim Henson
- Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence
- Nicolas Roeg
- Nikola Tesla
- Ricky Gervais
- Sesame Street
- Terry Jones
- The Man Who Fell To Earth
- The Muppets
- The Prestige
- The Snowman
- Thin White Duke
- Twin Peaks Fire Walk With Me
- William Shatner
- Ziggy Stardust