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Stardust review - The 1971 Bowie?

Stardust is a new film about David Bowie. This film was always going to be fighting an uphill struggle to be a success. The Bowie estate had refused to allow any of David Bowie’s music to be used in the film which of course is a key element of who David Bowie was. But David Bowie himself had an uphill struggle to be successful and actually it took him many years to make it. This film mainly covers 1971, and Bowie trying to break America. It’s bizarre when you think about it. He hadn’t even broken the UK at that time. Not in any commercial sense if you discount Space Oddity.

Even before this film’s release, the Bowie community in its droves have completely slated it – some before they have even seen it and others judging just from the trailer. But as a reviewer, I could never give an opinion on something I haven’t seen. I want to make my own mind up about it. I look deeper into performances than just the surface. I look beyond the music. I look to see what the story is trying to tell me and how the actors portray the characters. Even without the music, I hoped that a good script and good acting would make this film a secret gem.

There are parts of the film I enjoyed. Moments that made me smile. There is a piece of music at the beginning that is scarily similar to The Supermen off The Man Who Sold The World album. It gives you a flavour and that was needed to set the scene. I am not sure how they got away with it but it made me smile. I was not familiar with Johnny Flynn or his work before this piece, so I am judging his performance on purely this film alone. Firstly, he does not look like Bowie. This is a shame as there was no likeness at all. Bohemian Rhapsody was a hugely successful film, not just because they could use the Queen music but also because Rami Malek who played Freddie really did give a resemblance both in looks and voice. But back to Johnny, who couldn’t get the voice right either. For me, David Bowie’s voice is an integral part of who he was. When he passed away in 2016, hearing him speak made me cry even more than his music. Okay so let’s look past the fact that Johnny doesn’t look or sound like him. Let’s talk about outfits and wigs. Sadly, the wigs were just dreadful. Both David and Angie had very questionable wigs and I also felt that Bowie’s teeth were wrong. Yes, I do mean the 1971 teeth. Attention to detail is important. But if you ignore all that (and I know that is asking a lot), I can say there are moments of joy. I really enjoyed Johnny’s performance of Amsterdam. How creative to use Bowie covers instead of Bowie songs. He also covers My Death. Both of these songs were great to hear and it is obviously needed as the film is about a musician. Sadly, they cut My Death at the end – now this is something in their control yet they felt the need to cut it. A mistake in my opinion. Every Bowie fan will notice this. I am sure this is an editing issue rather than Johnny not performing the whole song.

Ron Oberman is played by Marc Maron and I have to say he is fantastic and holds the film together. I enjoyed Marc’s portrayal of Ron, a poorly paid promotor for Mercury records. The dynamic between Marc and Johnny is the key to this film and Marc does all he can to maximise on this. I felt for Ron, his life is in his car and he has to run these wannabe rock stars all over the USA, trying to catch a break with the big movers and shakers. To be honest, Bowie doesn’t really help Ron to use every opportunity – in fact sometimes in this film, Bowie is his own worst enemy. He purposely blows interviews and radio opportunities that could have really launched his career. Do fans want to see this? That is the question.

David Bowie’s wife Angie is played by Jena Malone and this is without question some of the worst acting I have seen in a long time. Where is Angie’s famous accent? Angie has never sounded so British. Along with another bad wig and poor script writing, Angie is almost a co-star whose part in Bowie’s life is played down. I have never warmed to the real-life Angie, but she deserves better than this. At least give her credit for her impact on David’s life.

Finally, the tiny bit parts for the spiders from mars and Marc Bolan are so poor with dreadful wigs once more – I didn’t even recognise Wooody Woodmansey! (The legendary drummer spider from Mars). Much more effort could have been made for these as they are key players in this chapter of Bowie’s life.

The reasons this film doesn’t work is not because of a bad wig. The reasons, in my opinion, is that Bowie is not painted in a good light. Fans don’t want to see an annoying wannabee who feels spoilt with his attitude towards Ron. It also doesn’t work because the story they are trying to tell is of Bowie’s relationship with his brother, Terry. Bowie always kept his private life private and I don’t think he would be happy with this storyline. Terry was diagnosed with schizophrenia and spent time in a mental institution. The film tries to guess how Bowie felt and implies that The Man Who Sold The World album is about a descent into madness. I personally don’t believe this is what the album is about – even with All The Madmen on it. TMWSTW is Bowie moving away from folk towards rock and it is the forerunner to Hunky Dory. I think it’s Bowie playing with the devil rather than madness. Well, that has always been my personal interpretation. And here is the final mistake. Not a mention of Hunky Dory. The film jumps from 1971 (the year Hunky Dory was released) to 1972 and Ziggy Stardust without any mention of the iconic album which has Life On Mars? on it. How can you completely miss it out without even a mention?

Sadly, this film misses the mark in several areas and I am sad about this as it could have had so much potential. Instead, it has the feel of a second-rate B-movie and in the past would be consigned to the 99p sale bin. For now, you can contend yourself that if you wish to watch it you can do so for free online here. But don’t say you haven’t been warned.


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