Bowie's Undying Light
It’s hard to believe that musical innovator/actor/producer/fashion trendsetter/visual artist David Bowie turned 69 on Friday. He released his new album “★” (aka Blackstar) that day and in an assessment of the prolific performer’s output and influence in yesterday’s Los Angeles Times, critic-at-large Sasha Frere-Jones (formerly pop critic for The New Yorker) wrote: “What Bowie has accomplished in 50 years of recording dwarfs the work of so many that it is hard to contain Bowie in fewer than 10 separate thoughts or to assign him even a rough identity.” It’s even harder to fathom that Bowie died yesterday after a battle with cancer. With dozens of movies utilizing his songs as potent soundtrack commentary, he has become indispensable musically to cinema and like his songwriting and live-performing legacy, his identities as a movie actor are fearlessly different. After taking on iconic roles as an alien (The Man Who Fell to Earth, which now seems more than faintly prescient of Steve Jobs), an outsider (The Elephant Man on Broadway for a three-month stint) and a decadent (The Hunger’s glamorously dessicating vampire), Bowie was cast by director Nagisa Oshima as the resolutely defiant POW in Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence because Bowie “had an inner spirit that is indestructible.” In fact, Bowie even made belonging to “the establishment” cool in the propulsive and visually scrumptious musical Absolute Beginners (1986), playing advertising agency magnate Vendice Partners, whose song – and production number – seduce the young hero Colin (Eddie O’Connell) into “selling out” for money and status. Reviewing the film, The New York Times’ Caryn James wrote: “In That's Motivation – an excerptable rock video that in old musicals would have been called a production number – he (Bowie) takes Colin on a dazzling satirical tour of adland, dancing on the keys of an oversized typewriter and a gigantic globe of the world, doing a Frank Sinatra turn complete with soft hat. He keeps the satire on target by playing it straightfaced.” In truth, the faces of Bowie were many and all dazzling and behind them was the soul of a true poet/troubadour; as Bowie’s lyrics for Absolute Beginners’ title tune simply state: “Nothing much could happen / Nothing we can’t shake / Oh, we’re absolute beginners / With nothing much at stake. / As long as you’re still smiling / There’s nothing more I need / I absolutely love you / But we’re absolute beginners / But if my love is your love / We’re certain to succeed.” Offered on an exquisite Twilight Time hi-def Blu-ray, director Julien Temple’s Absolute Beginners is an innovative, exhilarating showcase of music, dance, cinematography, costume and production design – and the eternal, influential, incomparable light of David Bowie. P.S. Bowie also contributed another noteworthy title tune to a unique and startlingly moving film from that same year of 1986, director Jimmy T. Murakami's animated When the Wind Blows, adapted from Raymond Briggs' cautionary book about an elderly British couple's chin-up facing of a nuclear strike, also a great TT disc. There he says: "So long child, I'm on my way / And after all is done, after all is done / Don't be down, it's all in the past / Though you may be afraid." While he journeys elsewhere, David Bowie remains.