Judge Clark Douglas would like to come and meet you, but he's afraid he'd blow your mind.
Bowie: Iconoclast, musical genius, lyricist and poet, creator of characters.
Rock star (well, I suppose "Rock God" is more apt) David Bowie was a fairly private figure for much of his professional career, and in recent years he's been nothing short of a recluse. Bowie is generally an interesting interview subject; perhaps moreso due to the fact that he doesn't give them very often and is cautious about revealing deeply personal things. As such, David Bowie: Rare and Unseen proves just a bit more interesting than the average unauthorized documentary.
Well, calling it a "documentary" is kind of a stretch. This DVD is actually a 54-minute assembly of a few intriguing items from the archives. The first and most compelling part is an interview from The Russell Harty Show recorded around the time Bowie was wrapping up his work on Nicolas Roeg's excellent The Man Who Fell to Earth. The conversation is compelling for a couple of reasons. First, Bowie seems somewhat spaced-out for much of the conversation; answering some questions with nonsequitors and veering between good-natured cheer, blunt retaliation and general evasiveness the rest of the time. Second, Harty is a terrible interviewer whose questions are so awkward that he feels like a character from a Saturday Night Live sketch. Fun stuff.
Everything else is more substantial but less interesting. The most recent segment is an interview recorded around the time of Bowie's 1997 techno album Earthling, in which the artist reflects on his career and the changes he's made. The most compelling portion of this interview is a moment in which Bowie claims he's glad that he experimented with drugs, as he came out on the other side a stronger man. "I'm not saying that people should go grab a junkie kit," he says, "But it can be a good thing for some people. I'm one of them."
The disc also offers some behind-the-scenes footage of Bowie hanging out with Peter Frampton, but this proves disappointingly bland. More enjoyable is a late '70s backstage interview with a woman who seems to be head-over-heels in love with Bowie. "You gonna follow me on stage?" Bowie inquires as the interview is concluding. "I'm not allowed," the woman sighs. "It's like the Berlin Wall past this point." For that matter, every interviewer featured on the disc seems to fawn over Bowie to a remarkable degree. One could argue that it's a testament to their lack of professionalism, but it's really more of a testament to Bowie's undeniable star power.
Speaking of a lack of professionalism…this DVD offers embarrassing snippets of songs performed by Bowie impersonator Stevie Riks. Considering the manner in which Riks overdoes Bowie's whine, the disc would have been better off without these moments. In addition, there's an amusing disclaimer on the disc informing us of what "rare" means (believed never previously released on DVD) and what "unseen" means (believed unseen since first broadcast). Another disclaimer at the end of the documentary claims that those responsible for making the film are more or less kinda-sorta sure that they haven't violated any copyright laws.
The DVD transfer is a mixed bag. Much of the footage has been awkwardly cropped—the Earthling-era interview looks as if a 1.78:1 transfer has been stretched out to 2.40:1, while other pieces that were clearly shot in full-frame have been cropped to 1.78:1. The picture quality varies dramatically depending on the source material, as does the audio. There are no extras on the disc.
As a big admirer of Bowie's work, I have to admit that I enjoyed watching David Bowie: Rare and Unseen. Even so, this somewhat clumsily-produced disc is only worth a look for devoted fans.
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