The Many Faces of David Bowie

News emerged yesterday morning that David Bowie – musician, artist and cultural icon – had sadly passed away at the age of 69. With a career spanning over 40 decades, he not only influenced music, but transcended into film, fashion and art as he persistently reinvented his image; from his flamboyant, androgynous alter-ego Ziggy Stardust in the early 1970s, to his short-lived clean cut persona of The Thin White Duke in 1976. He was a pioneer as he blurred the lines between masculinity and femininity, often raising societal eyebrows as he notoriously posed in a woman’s floral dress for the cover of his 1971 album The Man Who Sold the World. David Bowie touched so many and provided a soundtrack to their lives.

Bowie was born David Jones in Brixton, 1947. During his early days as a budding musician, he quickly adopted the surname Bowie to avoid confusion with Davy Jones of The Monkees. He released 25 studio albums in his lifetime and quite possibly formed one of the biggest cults in popular culture. All of his albums varied in musical experimentation; public favourites including The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars released in 1972, and his Berlin trilogy of albums: Low, Heroes (both 1977) and Lodger (1979). Two days before his death, he released what would be his last studio album Blackstar which is a carefully planned finale to end such a brilliant life and career. Aside from his musical career, here we will be exploring Bowie’s acting career and his greatest performances.

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The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976)

Documentaries like Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (1973) and Cracked Actor (1975) showed the world the sexual ambiguity and artistic experimentation of Bowie, but it was the cult sci-fi film The Man Who Fell to Earth that provided David Bowie with his first leading role as the flame-haired suave alien, Thomas Jerome Newton, who quite literally fell to the Earth. Driven by despair to save his family and avoid threat of extinction, Thomas crashes to Earth with the aim to bring water back. Aided by his high-flying lawyer and Thomas’ own knowledge of advanced technology, he invents a way to transport water back to his own planet, but the US government soon interfere. Along the way, Thomas falls for quiet hotel worker Mary-Lou (Candy Clark) who introduces him to the customs of planet Earth including booze, sex and church going. Directed by Nicolas Roeg, The Man Who Fell to Earth is a long – and occasionally difficult watch – but is utterly captivating and is pushed solely by Bowie’s strange and seductive persona.

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The Hunger (1983)

During the 1980s – as a correlation occurred between the HIV/AIDS epidemic and a rise in films orientated around vampires and body horror – The Hunger was released and remains to have cult status to this day. Starring David Bowie as the vampiric John Blaylock, the film demonstrated his remarkable talent early on in his acting career. Breaking genre convention, Bowie was forced to create an incredibly deep character – a powerful and capable entity who becomes powerless and weak. Here he showed great versatility, disowning the bisexual, androgynous persona of Ziggy Stardust, and somewhat stepping away from his later persona as The Thin White Duke. Though The Hunger seems to be a more obscure horror film, it is now highly relevant in popular culture. Though our hearts break at Bowie’s untimely passing, the latest season of American Horror Story has payed endless homage to the film, and especially the character of Blaylock.

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Labyrinth (1986)

Released in 1986, Labyrinth was a box office flop and was met with mixed critical reception. However, alike to most of Bowie’s films, it has since gained a cult following. Directed by Jim Henson and written by ex-Python Terry Jones, Labyrinth is an entertaining fantasy adventure that shouldn’t be taken too seriously. Jennifer Connelly is the brattish and stroppy teenager Sarah who inadvertently summons the evil Goblin King Jareth (David Bowie) to take away her annoying half-brother Toby. Sarah has thirteen hours to make her way through the Labyrinth – a maze-like place full of goblin tricksters and stinky bogs of eternal stench – to rescue Toby. Along the way she is joined by dwarfish Hoggle (Brian Henson), beastly Ludo (Ron Mueck), and the brave knight Sir Didymus (David Shaughnessy), who is a half-Basil Brush and half-Black Knight from Holy Grailnot forgetting his cowardly Old English sheepdog Ambrosius. David Bowie provides plenty of charm, campness in his occasional musical moments, and certainly terror for the younger viewer.

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What are your favourite films starring David Bowie?

Comment with your thoughts.

– Anna Richards   Introduction, The Man Who Fell to Earth and Labyrinth

– Daniel Sheppard   The Hunger

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