David Bowie On Film
(Rather similar to the other Bowie piece that I put together for ABC NewsRadio, seeing as how it is based on one major quote from it, and a similar premise. Unless you’ve a bent for comparative studies or some such, there’s no need to read both; if you've already read the NewsRadio version, skip to ‘Off The Record’.)
Having brought so many characters to life in his music, it’s no surprise that David Bowie has been acting for almost as long as he has been singing. However, Bowie's current role is as a family man. Married to model Iman for a decade, he recently became a dad, and his mindset lies more towards being himself on stage and in his music. Likewise, David Bowie seems to have virtually turned his back on acting.
“I’d love to be a movie star and have my name on posters and photographs forty foot high and all that,” he said at his Sydney press conference. “But you’ve got to work so hard at it – the acting, and all that you gotta do. It really takes up time and I don’t think I’ve got a commitment to it, really. I don’t think I’m serious enough about it, and quite rightly, that’s why I’m not offered a huge amount of stuff to do because it’s not my profession.”
Bowie’s first significant film role was as an alien stranded on earth in Nicolas Roeg’s The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976). By this point, having established himself as an international star, Bowie had ‘retired’ from the concert stage and was in need of other creative diversions. Roeg advised Bowie to “just play yourself” and Bowie did just that – his alien was another of the other-worldly characters he’d been playing on stage and on record. Thus, although the plot of The Man Who Fell To Earth was flimsy, Bowie’s acting was quite robust. No such luck with his next attempt, unfortunately, portraying Prussian soldier Paul van Przygodsky in Just a Jigolo (1979). “You were disappointed and you weren’t even in it,” Bowie has said of the film. “Imagine how I felt. It was my thirty-two Elvis movies rolled into one.”
David Bowie is most proud of his performance in the prison camp drama of Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence (1983). It certainly stands up better than his Dorien Gray-like vampire in The Hunger the same year, or his cameos in the ill-conceived Yellowbeard (also 1983) and John Landis’s Into the Night (1985). Bowie’s pantomime turn as Jareth the Goblin King in The Labyrinth (1986) was fun, as was his role in Julian Temple’s wretched adaptation of mockneyphile Colin MacInnes’s Absolute Beginners. However, David Bowie’s born-to-play role was clearly that of Andy Warhol in Basquiat (1996).
Nowadays, Bowie is happy just to accept cameos. “It’s just wonderful if someone like a Scorsese says, ‘do you want to wander on and do Pontius Pilate for five minutes?’ ‘Yes, smashing, what a crack that’ll be just to do that!’ I still choose anything I do on the strength of the director. If it’s somebody that I really admire, or it’s a new guy and I think, ‘he looks like he’d be interesting to work with’, I generally go on that. But Russell Crowe can sleep safely…”