What Moonage Daydream tells us about David Bowie

David Bowie walked into Lunar Reverie the life of director Brett Morgen when he was just a teenager. “I don’t know which came first, Bowie or puberty,” he told TIME on Zoom ahead of the documentary’s September 16 theatrical release. “But they had the same lasting impact on my worldview.” Forty years later, Bowie has again challenged Morgen to see the world and his place a little differently.

In 2017, as he prepared to make Lunar Reverie, a neon-soaked, non-linear ride through Bowie’s life and career, Morgen suffered a heart attack that left him in a coma for a week. It was Bowie who provided the filmmaker, who had had unlimited access to Bowie’s archives through the artist’s estate for the documentary, with a roadmap to recovery. “Bowie is someone who, from the start, understood how limited our time on this Earth was,” he says of the artist who died in 2016, two days before the release of his latest album. Black Star, who pondered his impending death. “Most of us don’t make it until we’ve lived more days than we have before us and suddenly wake up and say, Oh my god, we’re running out of time.”

Lunar Reverie is not a biographical film, but a philosophical film that shares Bowie’s thoughts on time, aging and mortality through never-before-seen footage of the chameleon singer on and off stage. (A hint that this is no ordinary music documentary? It begins with Bowie quoting Friedrich Nietzsche.) the hit of the same name from Bowie’s 1972 album, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the spiders of Mars. “But the fact that I don’t really know what that means is kind of the beauty of Bowie: he’s the unknowable.”

Morgen, who has made films about Jane Goodall, Kurt Cobain and Hollywood producer Robert Evans, estimates Bowie’s archive included more than five million assets ranging from concert clips to diaries. Going through every piece of ephemera took him seven years, but, in the end, he says he’s no closer to figuring out who David Bowie was. “It cannot be defined, but it can be experienced,” he says. “The more you listen to David Bowie, the more you learn about yourself.” Below, Morgen shares the stories behind his favorite Lunar Reverie moments.

Bowie sings the Beatles

Lunar Reverie includes a never-before-seen clip of Bowie singing a medley of his early ’70s hit “The Jean Genie” and The Beatles’ “Love Me Do” from DA Pennebaker’s 1979 concert documentary Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders of Mars. When Morgen discovered footage of Bowie’s performance at London’s Hammersmith Odeon, which featured Jeff Beck on guitar, he immediately knew he had found “a holy grail for Bowie fans”.

Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders of Mars was the first documentary Morgen had ever seen in theaters, and being able to skim through Penebaker’s clips was a spiritual experience for the director. “It’s one of the greatest filmed performances of David Bowie’s career,” Morgen said of the concert, which marked the last time Bowie performed as his alter ego Ziggy Stardust. “And then it was put on a shelf and untouched for 40 years. What a gift to be able to share it this way. Only a snippet of Bowie singing the Fab Four appears in the film, but fans can hear the medley in its entirety on the soundtrack of the movie.

Bringing David Bowie’s Diaries to Life

While living in Los Angeles in 1974, Bowie kept a diary which, according to Morgen, was “one of the strongest and most illuminating of all the ephemera I have experienced”. During this period Bowie was writing several screenplays, including one based on his 1974 album diamond dogs, and another about Major Tom, the wayward astronaut Bowie first named in his 1969 song “Space Oddity.” Morgen animated some of the storyboards Bowie had created for these films and used them to help visualize the moment in his film, in which Bowie talks about his relationship with his older half-brother Terry, who suffered from schizophrenia.

Newspapers allowed Morgen to see how Bowie saw the world, but “there was stuff I read where, [I thought] is it a comedy, or did he really go to the desert in the middle of the night to observe UFOs? Granted, Morgen still doesn’t know if Bowie’s Diaries were a work of fact or fiction, “but it was utterly fascinating to explore.” Going through them, he began to see a connection between Bowie and Kurt Cobain, whose archives he delved into for the 2015 documentary. Heck’s assembly. “David and Kurt had the same kind of creative energy that needed to be purged,” he says. “I’m always in awe of that kind of creativity and what people choose to do with it.”

Following the example of David Bowie

David Bowie seen in “Moonage Daydream”


Morgen got to see things Bowie fans could only dream of, but “the most illuminating thing” he saw in the archives was an interview the artist did with a Canadian entertainment reporter amid the 80s. “She sits down and it’s clear she doesn’t know anything about him,” Morgen says, but Bowie still engages with her in the moments before they air, asking her about her favorite books and sharing what he has read. What Morgen realized while watching this interview is that Bowie “sees every moment as an opportunity for growth and exchange, which was really powerful,” he says. “He was always present.”

Bowie’s ability to live in the moment led Morgen to rethink the way he lives his own life. “I don’t need to make films anymore,” he says. “When I started, I thought I was working on creating some kind of masterpiece one day. That I could keep learning and improving and get there. I learned from Bowie that virtuosity is overrated. Looking death in the face made Morgen realize that making the perfect movie no longer seems like the best use of his time. “I’ve been making movies for 25 years. There’s other things to do,” says the father of three “My wife doesn’t believe me, but I kind of want to run an Airbnb. I’m serious. I like to experiment.

His dream of managing a rental property will have to wait, as he has committed to directing another documentary with an iconic actor who has yet to be revealed. This will not be another archival project. “Because of this Bowie experience, I can’t do this anymore,” he says. Instead, he wants to move in with the aging Hollywood star for four months and see what happens. “I said to him, ‘It’s going to be terrifying for you because you’ve never allowed anyone to come into your life like this. I don’t want to do it, you don’t want to do it. that’s why we have to,” he says. “It was David’s influence; I realized he always took everything into account. Most of us don’t really go through life like that, but maybe we should.

The end credits scene

Stay till the very end of Lunar Reverie and you’ll get a sweet send-off from Bowie in the form of a little farewell song. The Last Thing Moviegoers Hear is an unreleased audio clip that was recorded for an EPK or electronic press kit he made for the release of his 1995 album, Outside. “It was that little tag he did at the end of the recording that I found so charming,” he says. “I’m having a hard time hearing that because it’s so hot.”

Morgen hopes Bowie’s final farewell doesn’t really feel like a goodbye, but a friendly reminder that tomorrow isn’t promised, so you need to live each day to the fullest. After all, that’s what Bowie would do. “I don’t think anyone walks into a David Bowie movie thinking they’ll come out of it feeling enlightened in the same way that a visit to a church or a temple will enlighten you,” he says. “But it’s David for you. He was one of a kind.

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