Moonage Daydream: “Who Is He? What Is He?”

<em>Moonage Daydream: </em>“Who Is He? What Is He?”

Right from the start, Brett Morgen’s Moonage Daydream (2022) catches us off guard. It begins with an epigraph musing on Friedrich Nietzsche’s proclamation that “God is dead,” then takes us into deep space and onto the surface of the moon. It then unleashes an image storm of rockets, robots, and star-gazers, and rapid-fire fragments of early silent cinema, 1920s science fiction, fifties cartoons, and sixties and seventies newsreel footage, before lingering on a close-up of glittery varnish on fingernails. The effect is dizzying, and Morgen has fittingly described the film, a tribute to the late David Bowie, as “an experiential documentary.” This is not a conventional account of a rock musician’s life and work. Neither a concert movie nor an information-laden career overview, it is instead a free-associative hybrid of pop history and imaginative extravaganza—impressionistic, eclectically allusive, and, above all, immersive.

Designed for multiple formats—including the most immersive of them all, IMAX—Moonage Daydream unashamedly offers itself as a neofuturistic trip through the music, styles, and guises of pop’s most mercurial shape-shifter. It is also a journey through the singer’s thoughts. Densely crafted from several decades of interviews, the film’s voice-over features Bowie speaking from start to finish, giving us insights into the philosophy of a singularly articulate and intellectually serious artist.

This is one of several films in which Morgen has tested the parameters of the documentary form by combining archival material with new flourishes, most notably animation. For his Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck (2015), collaborators Hisko Hulsing and Stefan Nadelman created animated counterparts to the Nirvana front man’s own artwork and audio collages. And for The Kid Stays in the Picture (2002), about Hollywood producer Robert Evans, Morgen and codirector Nanette Burstein applied animation effects to images from the subject’s life to, as Morgen has put it, “make a film that was Robert Evans, that personified him.”

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