Moonage Daydream: Brett Morgen presents David Bowie's experience (2023)

Moonage Daydream: Brett Morgen presents David Bowie's experience (1)Telling the story of an artist is a daunting effort that, in the right hands, transcends chronology and the testimonies of contemporaries and critics to focus on the life, work and interiority of the artist himself. The creative process is so unique, mysterious and mystical that it takes an equally brave artist to deal with its protagonist. In my opinion, the best documentaries that have done that—tupac resurrection(Lauren Lazin)Judy Garland: Sola(Susanne Lacy),listen to me marlon(Stevan Riley),I'm not your black(Raoul Peck) – surrender to artists who reveal in their words their demons, their passions, their sensibilities, their fears.

Filmmaker Brett Morgen has dedicated a significant part of his work to exploring the life and work of artists.Cobain: Montage von Heck(Kurt Cobain; 2015);crossfire hurricane(Los Rolling Stones; 2012) yThe boy stays in the photo.(Robert Evans; 2002, directed with Nanette Burstein). Morgen told these stories with extensive audio and visual recordings from vaults and personal files, providing dense portraits of complicated and momentous people.

For the past seven years, Morgen has been engaged with one of the most transformative and transformative artists in popular culture: David Bowie. The subject of several documentaries and books, as well as a highly regarded exhibition, after his death in 2016, Bowie reached an iconic level that transcended the many personas and personas he had assumed during his glittering career.

How do you catch a star and fix it?moon dreamHitting theaters September 16 on NEON, it's a kaleidoscopic escapade through David Bowie's many worlds and is actually Morgen's second adventure in what he calls "The David Bowie Experience." The first, in 2007, was exploratory, following his groundbreaking animated documentary.chicago10. Back then, neither Morgen nor Bowie were ready to move on. But a few movies later, and with Bowie's death spurring a deeper appreciation for the artist, Morgen could now take on the most ambitious project of his career, one whose process was interrupted by a massive heart attack that nearly killed him but it would also last more than one tectonic shift in his worldview and creative journey.

Documentary filmspoke to Morgen over Zoom after the UK premiere ofmoon dreamat the Sheffield Doc/Fest. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

DOCUMENTARY: I want to go back to 2007 when you first pitched a project to David Bowie. What did he mean to you then and what kind of film did you want to make about him?

BRETT IN THE MORNING:In 2007, David was a character from my youth. He had stopped listening to it, probably closeLet's Dance, but the impact he had on me as a teenager was as profound as any artist has had on me at any time in my life. When I was asked to introduce David in 2007, I heardbest order, but I was not so busy with him.

They had a very interesting suggestion that said: "David doesn't want to make a documentary, but we do want a non-fiction catalog film. Can you think of something?" I wasn't motivated by my own passion to make a movie at the time, but the only thing I understood about David and built the pitch on was the idea of ​​change and transition and what happens, if you don't evolve.

In short, I presented a triptych. The first part was to introduce David today, in modern Berlin, and the premise was: he had never released an album since Ziggy, and had spent his entire career as a one-hit wonder, singing on the same set. the night after that night.

A second segment related to David and I traveling together to Southeast Asia for a press conference at the Tokyo airport where we would show a five minute clip from a documentary we were planning to release. But that would be the kind of documentary David would never have wanted to be a part of: a very talkative, celebrity-based, talking-heads documentary. And then David would travel around Southeast Asia and China for his own interests, kabuki and Chinese opera, going to a few shows, which would later be like [Japanese author Yukio] Mishima, where every scene is an expression of his life. .

The bottom line was that he wasn't healthy enough to start this movie at the time, and I wasn't mature enough at this point in my career to tackle a David Bowie movie.

Moonage Daydream: Brett Morgen presents David Bowie's experience (2)

D: Fast forward to 2016 after he died, and I'll be in the spotlight.stern mountYcrossfire hurricaneas a forerunner ofmoon dream– How had your esteem for him grown? When she approached his manager again, what was he on his mind this time?

BM:I would say I don't think about itcrossfireas a companion to this film. I thinkthe child staysin the image,stern mountYmoon dreamas very aligned.

Well, I vividly remember when I first heard it.Black Star; she shook me to the core. It was such a profound work of art. I don't know if anyone has ever come back to form in such a grand way.

I was at a screening ofstern mountat South by Southwest, visited by David FrickeRolling Stone. When he finished, he told me, "I've seen Nirvana 12 times and that's the closest you'll ever get to Nirvana."

Something clicked at that moment and I thought that most of my nonfiction explorations consisted of having experiences based on the files of my subjects. I'd like to think - and it started with thatthe child staysim Bild – that movies are not so much about the themes as to be the embodiments of the themes.

My approach to nonfiction has always been based on a cinematic search. There is a wealth of information about what I can offer and present on a theater stage. And that's partly due to my deep love for surround sound and immersive sound design. So in 2015 I created a format whose working title would be The IMAX Music Experience. And the premise of IME was that there are certain artists who are so well known that we don't need to go to the movies to explore their Wikipedia entry. We can go to the movies just to experience them.

I don't even know if I would call this format a documentary. It is not fiction. It's closer to the Pink Floyd Laserium or something like that, like an immersive audiovisual experience. At the time I thought these movies couldn't be longer than 40 minutes because that's as far as you can go without narration. I have an agreement with BMG. Everyone seemed to agree with this idea.

The plan was to do it once a year. I thought I was ready for the next 15 years of my life. I didn't know it takes seven years to make one! I hadn't thought through the machinations of how these movies would actually work. At 10 minutes with no narrative focus, I don't care how good the music is, looking at a wall with a few hundred other people makes you feel uncomfortable and embarrassed. So that later became a burden for me. But I was excited and excited and we started talking to the bands. And then Bowie happened.

It's hard to articulate why Bowie's death had such a profound impact at this time when I haven't been an active listener for so many years. It could have been the combination of "Here was my childhood hero and he was gone too soon" and a lot of emotion. But mostly, a lot of people started digging into Bowie.

And I realized that I was the perfect artist for this kind of exploration. At this point, he hadn't delved into his history and biography, so he had no idea how tailor-made it would be for this format. I contacted his manager, Bill Zysblat, who is now his executor, who was present at that first meeting with David.

I explained what I was interested in and he said, 'Most people don't know this, but David has saved and collected everything and for the last 25 years he has created an archive. But he never wanted to do some kind of traditional documentary. And he every once in a while he'd say things like, 'Bill, what are we going to do with all this?'"

So I got this idea that I don't need anything but material, and I'm not going to interview anyone. I just want the David Bowie experience. Bill said, "That sounds great. It's a little early. Come back next year." So I spent that year doing more academic research on Bowie. We started the project in earnest in 2017, where it was growing any day at the time. Interestingly , the film was conceived in a way that predates the subject.

D: thatstern mountYmoon dreamYou are dealing with artists who are not here in body, but who are here with their heart, mind and soul and in their work. How advantageous is it for you to participate in such a project format, compared toThe boy stays in the photo.Ycrossfire hurricane?

BM:There are pros and cons to both. It was a challenge as Bob Evans wanted to control his narration, he knew the film was being narrated while he was speaking off camera. And I think he thought that if he didn't put it on the audio we wouldn't be able to use it and that would limit the areas that we can explore in the film.

For example, Bob never wanted to talk about how promiscuous he might have been. But he was such a big part of the Bob legend at the time. And then there's a section of the film where Bob says, "I never go out. I stay home every night." And then a montage of him on the road. That was important because it allowed us to introduce a dishonest narrator and create frictions.

But the downside of that was that I moved into Bob's house for six months before writing the script.The boy stays in the photo.. She knew that she was making a stock movie; She didn't need to be with him. But I lived with him for six months because I wanted to make a movie that felt like it was being directed.

It is the direction of methods. He needed to know how he walked, talked, woke up, ate; none of that would make it into the movie, but all of that would help me get a deeper and more complex picture of him. So having a live subject for these purposes is a huge advantage.

my movies upstern mount, had been based on primary source materials. That doesn't give you an idea of ​​who the person really is. It presents you with an image of the leaked media. What we occasionally look for are those moments that weren't created by leaked media.

So for example instern mountSo Kurt's 50 hours of sitting and watching TV, just listening to the boom boxes, was probably much more relevant and insightful to me than any interview I've come across with him in terms of trying to get a feel for how to get his mannerisms and likes and dislikes and interests. The same goes for Bowie. My favorite piece of multimedia that I discovered was a three-hour video piece that he made in 1974 on a half-inch reel-to-reel video in which he created video art.

But it wasn't what I was filming that I found so interesting; it was the sound that passed off camera. Because every time the camera is turned on and off, a different scene happens. And sometimes the camera would turn on and listen to Stravinsky. And David muttered to himself. And then he would just hang up and there would be some people coming through a door. And it's John Lennon.

And I knew that what I was accessing at the time was completely unfiltered, and like Kurt, what I loved more than anything else was the idea of ​​this person creating for the purpose of creating themselves. While Kurt and David are quite different, they both worked in different mediums and these explorations came back to support his main interest in music.

D: What I found so valuable in your film was the images and audio of him talking about his process, his spirituality, his search. And being so transparent and accommodating in the process, which is not the case with many artists. Talk about how these interviews with Bowie served as the basis for structuring this film.

BM:One of the things I admired about David was that he saw every moment as an opportunity to share. And even when he did an interview with an MTV journalist in the mid-'80s before the cameras rolled, he would tell them about the books they had read. There was always: Let's make this moment as rich as possible. He would be drawn to topics like cybernetics or spirituality or mortality in his interviews.

But he is an intellectual and these issues concerned him. He has been very constant in the themes throughout his life. He would return to them. And he was passionate about chaos theory and fragmentation in the early '70s. And he was so excited to talk about it in the late '90s when the world that he described in 1971 was beginning to emerge.

When I finished working on Jane in January 2017, I had a heart attack. I had a flat line and needed CPR and was in a coma for a week.

I need to put that in context for you if you ask me about David's moving thoughts in the movie. Because what happened when I started my recovery is I started listening to Bowie interviews. And for someone who's just had a near-death experience, you'll hear something like -- now I'm quoting David -- "The moment you realize you've lived more days than you have ahead of you, that's the time." moment when you can really start living your life.”

In the state I was in, it was something I needed to hear. It was something he had to experience. And of course I think all art is biographical. When we create a bio of someone, it inherently reflects more of you than the person you are portraying.

My Bowie movie was made as a result of the heart attack. There was my head. So if I was making this movie in 2015 or 2007, I may have been drawn to some of those things, but certainly not in the way that I did. I began to wonder: what was the message that my children would remember me if I died that day?

And that was discouraging. And then there was David. And David was basically much deeper and wiser than I can be, am or ever was. And I realized that David's message was the message that he wanted to convey to my children. Last but not least, in two and a half hours this movie would be the place for my kids if they ever get lost or confused or what advice are they looking for from dad they can watch the movie. And that was obviously something that dates back to 2015: I never expected that I would end up making a film that would be a guide to fully living in the 21st century.

Moonage Daydream: Brett Morgen presents David Bowie's experience (3)

D: I have some doubts about the structure. I appreciate the fact that you opened and closed with a scene from the 1960 documentary.universe, as outer space was one of Bowie's many inspirations, spanning his artistic career from Space Oddity to Black Star. When you pitched the project to Bill Zysblat, you didn't want it to be a conventional documentary; They wanted it to be a theatrical movie experience. Still, there is a necessary linearity when talking about the development of an artist; There has to be that kind of structuring while still staying true to your artistic vision. Talk about the challenge of recognizing the need to see how he evolved as an artist through his own words and his artistic intentions to make this a David Bowie experience.

BM:Well, I think this film, more than any other film I've ever worked on, made me deepen my belief that there are no absolutes in art and that I generally apply a very strict aesthetic to my films before I start editing. Every movie I've made was written before it went into the editing room, and the edits don't vary much from the scripts.

So after two years of looking at pictures and telling my investors that I was going to have this crazy Laserium-like experience, I sat down to write an experience, only to find out that I didn't know how. I am very linear in my way of thinking. Jane,stern mountYThe boy stays in the photo.they are written much like dramatic movies, with cause-and-effect narratives and three acts.

Conmoon dreamI fought with all my might for eight months. He had tremendous doubts about myself. At this point, he had used up most of our pre-editing budget just to record all this stuff. And I didn't know how to do that.

So I tried it. I cut that first scene from the space scene very early; It's like a template of what the movie should be, but I didn't know how to go from there. I realized that the film would require more structure. And as I reviewed the materials, I was able to establish a consistent plot in terms of impermanence and transcendence, or some variation thereof.

Essentially, David says bluntly: "Chaos and fragmentation are my way." And I came up with a very loose interpretation of that, so I think that's okay, that solid line connects a lot of elements that helped define David. Involved in this is the cutting process, which he borrowed from William Burroughs. You could argue that his belief in nothing at all and his ability to stay in the now, in the moment, I was wrong to think that David created these different characters that defined him and, as you notice in the movie, it's not about of characters.

I started to see David's life and career more as a series of movements, like Picasso, those periods where you would only see these dramatic changes. When I landed on this idea of ​​transience as the continuum and shouldn't be biographical per se, I got stuck. I got a trick from Bowie's book, which is to get out of your own environment.

With that in mind, I took the train from Los Angeles and figured I wouldn't be back until I broke this. And 24 hours later I had the script that the movie was based on. And just when I got there, I decided to play a game. And I said, okay, let's pick three songs from each album that relate to those themes and see how it goes. And I was like, oh wow, this could be the movie. And it spans your entire career. It's not just about the punches. And then it was about rearranging and restructuring that playlist and using it as a basic blueprint for the movie. And that naturally pushed me towards a more linear path.

But there was no way it was two and a half hours from my original idea of ​​40 minutes. I think the challenge then was: there's this narrative that's really about his spiritual and creative journey through life, and one of the ideas that went into the film was that I didn't want to do a biography of him. But at one point I realized that if someone's actions and trade is isolation and alienation, you can only take so much from someone who says before you leave, what's behind it?

Realizing that I was doing the viewer, the audience, myself, and David a disservice by being totally dogmatic about this, I felt an urge to peel the onion for a moment. When I did that, the idea was that I would talk about his family in a way that was broad enough to invite the screening. And this is one of the most interesting parts of the film that reflects on David, which is to say, David Bowie's lyrics are often quite elusive, often because he uses the cutting process.

Bowie talked a lot and created art that should invite the viewer to project whatever they want on the screen. He was intentionally vague and moody and hard to pin down, not as a person, but in his art. And I like to say that Bowie is better experienced, not defined.

moon dreamwas designed to be a movie about you, not David Bowie, trying to apply the techniques used by Bowie and make a movie that feels more than learned.

The idea was that it wasn't so much about humanizing David as it was about inviting the audience like you do with any movie. Projecting herself, projecting her own history. My hope was that throughout the film, people would meditate on their own lives. And they can walk out of the theater and think about their lives, not David's life. And the hope was that what he was talking about would resonate with almost everyone because it's not specific to the music industry or even the creative process. This is about life. There are words of wisdom emanating from David that are so applicable to improving our daily lives.

D: There is a quote from Bowie where he talks about being a Buddhist on a Tuesday and a Nietzschean on a Friday. And the movie opens with Bowie quoting Nietzsche. I have been thinking in this polarity ever since. That, to me, is key to understanding Bowie and exploring him, but I think that's my movie, as you imply.

BM:I think it's this idea that there are no absolutes and you take pieces from these different religions and different artists and mix them together. There is an element of postmodernism or post-postmodernism. The original quote that opens the film is part of a series of interviews David conducted in which he discussed Nietzsche, Einstein, Freud, and James Joyce, all of whom were deconstructing our belief system at the same time in the early 20th century.

The movie is many things. It is about the 20th century. It is about the transition from analog to digital. One of the things that is very prescient is that we don't seem to be listening to someone give us life advice that doesn't apply to the world we live in. This was a person who very much, as he says in the 1970 movie, created the 21st century.

And I was aware of these fragmentation ideas, which have apparently just blossomed a million times over with digital advances and the Internet. And one of the things that I found so useful about him is that if we live in a chaotic world and you accept chaos, you are kind of like bamboo. They won't break you. Just move on and accept it.

That's what's so exciting about Bowie: he introduces us to a world, and as a kid I used to chase his influences whenever he got involved with anything.

And if we're trying to create a film that strives to convey something of David's experience, what does that look and feel like? It should be mysterious. There is a part of the language of the film in which I have included visual references to his influences and inspirations. I will not explain them. I'm not saying what they are. They are there. Knowing them is like a Rorschach test. And you can derive each additional meaning by seeing Kenneth Anger next to something else. But if you don't know them, that's okay too.

D: How did the experience of creatingmoon dreamIt has changed you as an artist and what do you see as your way forward?

BM:Ah, it changed everything. It changed the direction of my career and what I will do next. I return to the Cinéma Vérité. That would never have happened on its own. This was a direct response to David and I realized that he had been in the same environment for 20 years and he needed to change my work environment and approach so that I could grow and learn more through these experiences.

I feel like when I started the movie I was a bit of a tomboyish kid and I think I've grown up. And it was probably unavoidable because of the heart attack and the need to make some changes in my life. But it was definitely inspired by David. I also feel like an artist, David taught me something. And as I mentioned before, I'm a stickler with aesthetics.

And there is something very liberating in understanding that in art there are no absolutes, that there are no mistakes; there are only happy coincidences. I think the movie experience really woke me up in a lot of ways. It was an absolute blessing.

Tom White is the editor of the documentary magazine.

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