David Bowie was one of the music industry’s most eclectic voices. Songs such as “Life on Mars,” “Starman,” and the classic “Moonage Daydream,” let the musician craft a unique voice for himself. His unique style would prove challenging to adapt into a narrative film. Instead, director Brett Morgen (Crossfire Hurricane; Cobain: Montage of Heck) delivers a documentary of David Bowie himself. Moonage Daydream utilizes montage-style editing to portray Bowie’s life and musical career. The results are something that his fans and non-fans will be discussing for years to come.
The film is clearly designed for those devoted, years-long followers of Bowie. Morgen understands this, making the dream-like quality infectious. Bowie fan or not, it’s difficult to not be transfixed by his talents, which are showcased by the film’s editing style, making audiences feel like they have entered his mind. Such a conceit could make certain viewers see Moonage Daydream as a vanity project by Bowie fans. That idea is entirely missing the point behind Morgen’s almost mystical documentary.
Divided into nearly two dozen “chapters,” the film is broken into three distinct phases of Bowie’s career. Firstly, the film covers the start of Bowie’s career in London and eventual departure to West Berlin. It is in these moments where viewers see the beginnings of his musical origins. Including songs such as “All of Us Dudes,” the first hour serves as the concert film some will be looking for. That could be enough for some, but others could be left wanting something much more. The second phase allows for the deeper meanings to shine through.
Phase two focuses on more of Bowie’s artistic inspirations from West Berlin. Listening to him speaking in clips and interviews makes this the most informative chapter. Since I myself am not a diehard Bowie fan, this chapter was a great look into understanding the man himself. It’s equal parts informative and very entertaining to see his thoughts come to life through his music. The only regret is that this is arguably the shortest chapter of the bunch. By the time we reach chapter three, I was left wanting to know more about the man behind the personality.
Phase three places viewers into the more well-known public persona of the musician. Fans of Bowie might already know this information, but it is still nice to hear from the man himself. Non-fans will be interested to see more of the man behind the facade. A particularly strong moment is hearing Bowie in his duet with Tina Turner. After that, this phase covers the rest of Bowie’s life up until his death at the age 69. Ending with his musical collaborations is a perfect crescendo to his journey as a performing artist. While engaging, that is not this Criterion home release’s biggest asset. The numerous special features help to enhance the experience.
From a technical perspective, the home release is visually stunning with the 4K digital transfer on the Blu-ray. The kaleidoscopic imagery is a perfect interpretation of Bowie’s mind. From scene one, the imagery transports you into another world. Morgen’s dedication to telling this story correctly extended to supervising the transfer, a length worth admiring. In fact, the strongest featurettes of the series directly involve Morgen himself. These include a director’s commentary of Morgen, and an interview with him at the TCL Chinese Theater in Hollywood. Both are exciting looks into this one-of-a-kind documentary creation. Be advised that none of the included special features appear to be available on the prior physical release.
Moonage Daydream is a documentary unlike any other. Instead of a simple lesson of Bowie’s life, it is a trip into his mind. Some could consider that to be strange and the narrative feeling disjointed. Fans of David Bowie will immediately become enveloped into the mind of the artist. Regardless of your stance on him, it is certainly a documentary that stands out from a crowded genre. This home release certainly makes the case for a trip to the stars with the man himself.
Moonage Daydream Special Features:
- 4K digital master, supervised by writer-director-editor-producer Brett Morgen, with Dolby Atmos and stereo soundtracks
- One 4K UHD disc of the film and one Blu-ray with the film and special features
- Audio commentary featuring Morgen
- Q&A with Morgen, filmmaker Mark Romanek, and musician Mike Garson at the TCL Chinese Theatre in Hollywood
- Interview with rerecording mixers David Giammarco and Paul Massey
- Previously unreleased 1974 live performance by David Bowie of “Rock ’n’ Roll with Me”
- English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
- PLUS: An essay by film critic Jonathan Romney and a collectible poster insert
- New cover by Empire Design
Available on 4K UHD Blu-ray Combo and Blu-ray September 26th, 2023.
For more information, head to the official The Criterion Collection Moonage Daydream webpage.
This piece was written during the SAG-AFTRA strike. Without the labor of the actors currently on strike, the movie being covered here wouldn’t exist.