As a companion piece to Talkhouse Music’s tribute page, Talkhouse Film is featuring its own contributors’ remembrances of David Bowie, a unique talent who was hugely influential in the realm of film as well as music.
More tributes will be added to this post as they come in. Feel free to leave your own tributes and memories in the comments section below. – N.D.
I sang this on Tuesday morning.
I thought a little à cappella Major Tom was a way to honor the man and artist that was David Bowie. We were all so lucky to live in his lifetime.
I saw Bowie at the Empire in Liverpool back in the 1970s, on his Aladdin Sane tour. The audience was massively enthusiastic, a little too much so since at one point somebody held on to his hand too long and he left the stage.
After a couple of minutes, one of the roadies came on, took the mic, and said, “Cool it, you guys. One of you almost pulled David into THE PIT!”
Then the man returned and the show continued.
– Alex Cox
It’s difficult for people to fathom, but most of us didn’t really get to hear Bowie in the U.S. till around 1973. I had seen the album cover for Hunky Dory and while I was fascinated, I thought it was a girl trying to do a Marlene Dietrich pose (turns out, this was in fact Bowie’s inspiration) and I was a big Garbo fan, with a great dislike for Dietrich. So it took me moving to London that summer of 1973 to hear Bowie for the first time. The man I was living with, Phil White, had been seeing him play since the late ’60s. Phil played Hunky Dory for me and once I was knocked to the floor, reduced to dust by that, he introduced me to Ziggy Stardust. And even though he and his friends teased me endlessly for calling him David “Boo-ee,” I had fallen under the spell of the simple elegance of Hunky Dory and the vibrant rock of Ziggy Stardust. Like most everyone, once you hear him for the first time, you’re a fan for life.
I only met him once, and I had just thought of it on Friday – his birthday – about this incredible, impossible-to-have-predicted night in 1993 wherein Simon Le Bon and Nick Rhodes crashed (and valiantly paid for) my Valentine’s Day dinner with Quentin Tarantino and dragged us to a video shoot. It turned out to be for Bowie’s cover of Scott Walker’s song “Nite Flights.” I knew the records Scott and Scott 2 at this point, but hadn’t yet heard “Nite Flights.” Seeing everyone’s birthday postings about Bowie on Friday, I was thinking about this and how he totally ignored me that night. Yeah, he had no use for me at all! Ha. But who cares, he was fucking David Bowie, and I got to be there while he was doing something. And not just anything – covering a Scott Walker song! It’s a most exquisite Scott Walker cover and I still can’t believe I got to be there that night to see him shooting that video.
I was at university when Scary Monsters came out, living with three other York U film students in a vermin-infested apartment at Bloor and Clinton in Toronto. I had a crappy record player in my tiny room, and my best friend and roommate – who would later pull a knife on me – lounged on the bed beside me as we listened dreamily to the album. It sounded so strange and subversive. The woman reciting the spoken word parts of “It’s No Game (Part 1)” in Japanese had an enormous effect on me. It conjured a whole future world that I vowed someday to experience: international, glamorous, sophisticated, sexually ambiguous. “It’s No Game” contains my favorite Bowie lyric to this day: “Silhouettes and shadows/Watch the revolution/No more free steps to heaven.” And a line I quote with some frequency: “To be insulted by these fascists is so degrading.”
David Bowie was an absolute inspiration to me.
When I was 9 years old, I made a short stop-motion animation film over one summer school break. I didn’t have a clue what I was doing; I just kind of made it up as I went along. It was about the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, of all things. My dad performed all of the voices and I made Al Capone and all the other characters from Plasticine (the English version of Play-Doh). I built and painted the sets in my bedroom and spent weeks on it, only coming out if I was dragged out on a family trip. And as I lay on the carpet, shaping heads and arms, building model Ford cars, I played music from an old wonky cassette deck. I didn’t know at the time what the music was (it was an unmarked cassette I think I’d nicked from my sister’s room), but I loved it and I played the 11 songs on this one album over and over and over, for weeks, until my homemade film was complete. And then I went back to school and the film went on a dusty shelf, and the cassette was reclaimed by my indignant sister. And I didn’t think about making films for a while. Playing football for Southampton F.C., joining the army, learning to fly a plane, those were the dreams that preoccupied me. But, years later, I was at a friend’s house and I heard “Life on Mars?” and then “Kooks,” “Quicksand” and “The Bewlay Brothers,” and the memories of that summer came flooding back, and how it had been the best summer of my life. The music gave me a feeling in the pit of my stomach – one of excitement, anticipation and inspiration to create. And so I set out to make another short film. And then another, and another. And 30-odd years later, I’m sitting at my computer preparing my next film and Hunky Dory is still playing.
In a world as screwy as ours, that so many of us were inspired by David Bowie is, in some way, a very good thing. Proof perhaps that this world is a wonderful place.
– Rupert Wyatt (Rise of the Planet of the Apes)
I didn’t ever meet David Bowie. But Bowie was one of the artists whose death made me cry. I cried because he helped me understand parts of myself through his presence, his art and his music. I spoke to some friends and they felt that same thing, the personal connection to him at a pivotal time in their lives. The power of his tone and depth of his presence had the perfect combination of authority and passion. And he inspires the most primal form of art.
Bowie’s death really felt like the end of something massive. He was a superhuman who represented the beginning, middle and end, and the pinnacle of what was unique and right on. Bowie was the mad scientist of artistry and literally invented a persona to fulfill as if each album was an opera.
There are very few artists who have that magical touch – to mix mediums and really go there … to space, to the square root of expression, to be a child with no fears or trepidations about the dream. Bowie started to release music in the ’60s, before many of us who love him were even born. For more than five decades, he has been putting beautiful music into the world. Music that tells a story and takes us places. His songs push us to be better humans and artists. Hopefully, with all of this good he has unleashed upon us, we will continue to be inspired and make good stuff. We can all be heroes, just for one night, and listen to the supergod cry …
– Amy Berg
Upon hearing the news of Bowie’s passing, I went through the stages of refusing to believe it, then accepting it, then weeping … and then … I cursed the fact that I had not been born a decade earlier so I could have seen him during his glorious ’70s period. But as I flashed back to my first tastes of Bowie, I realized I cherished how my relationship with him unfolded, beginning with the 1983 album Let’s Dance. As an 8-year-old, I had the LP and by the end of the year it was thrashed from so many listenings. Growing up as part of the MTV generation, the video always intrigued me; it was set in some dusty desert small town, Bowie visibly sweating. It reminded me of places in the nearby deserts of Southern California; having grown up in L.A., it seemed familiar. The shocker was then discovering the video for “Ashes to Ashes” – I could not fathom that it was the same person, and he became endlessly fascinating to me as a result.
I got to embrace the groovy-period Bowie in my teen years – just when you need things to be really weird, the door was cracked wide open for me, and I already considered myself a Bowie fan from the ’80s, so it was very easy to embrace. Hunky Dory and The Man Who Sold the World were on constant rotation. I loved the way the guitars sounded, I loved that he used both acoustic and fuzzed-out electric guitars, I loved the confidence behind the strangeness, I loved the stories in each song. When you feel isolated and weird as a teenager, Bowie definitely provides some comfort and allows you to explore it.
While people often talk about his ability to slip into different personas, what I find amazing is that while he can be the starman from outer space, or the androgynous 1930s inspired starlet, he managed to tap into a part of himself that was constant and relatable, which is why I think so many of us adore him. It’s a really tricky thing as an artist, to transform yourself, try new things out and still be genuine. He will always be an inspiration to me in that regard, and I truly can’t imagine living in a world without his music; the mere thought makes me shudder. Thank you, Mr. Bowie, for making the world so much sweeter. You will be missed.
I first fell in love with David Bowie when I was 7 years old and Labyrinth came out on VHS. I recall being frightened of him as Jareth, the Goblin King, but at the same time deeply attracted to him. Not really in a sexual way, but maybe so – I just did not have the capacity to acknowledge that yet at that age. Later, when I began dating my soon-to-be wife, I rediscovered Labyrinth on the shelf in her apartment. We watched it together on one of our first dates. My wife – at the time a Parsons design student – was obsessed with Bowie, his style, his music, everything about him. We bonded over him. When I started making films, she tried to get me to pitch a Labyrinth remake to the studios. I thought André 3000 would make a good Goblin King. But really no one could replace Bowie in this role.
The magic of David Bowie was his ability to have two people from very different backgrounds bond over their mutual love and affection for him. That’s a unique power Bowie had and why he’ll be missed on earth, but will still continue to bring people together for generations to come.
I was introduced to Bowie in reverse, like many kids of my generation, via Labyrinth. Even being, at that age, such a huge Muppet and Gremlin head, it was Bowie who truly commanded my attention. Felt and latex can never upstage a good mythical beast made of actual human flesh! Shortly after, I was shown The Man Who Fell to Earth, because my parents were weird. The promise of Labyrinth was more than fulfilled by Roeg’s amazing feature.
Up until this point, science fiction had been merely Star Wars or The Black Hole. Here was the type of deep, metaphysical questioning only found in ’60s sci-fi paperbacks. It proved to me what the genre could do. And that’s in no small part to David Bowie’s performance. It took his stranger-than-life persona to translate literary sci-fi to the screen. I suppose my only regret is we’ll never have a film version of Stranger in a Strange Land starring him. MTV made me aware that this odd man also had a bit of a music career. The television offerings merely hinted at a greater world, so I sought it out. Imagine my surprise when I was introduced to the epic alien odyssey of Ziggy Stardust! A science-fiction concept album! Who knew such a thing could even exist!?
Years later, while preparing for my own feature film Earthling (not coincidentally also the title of a Bowie album), I returned to The Man Who Fell to Earth. Anyone who’s seen my uneven sci-fi offering knows the best parts owe a pretty strong debt to Roeg and Bowie, the greatest part being the fluid gender identification of the lead characters. Though I reference Orlando often as the inspiration for the “alien being who was formerly male, now female, and in love with the same woman from his/her previous life,” it’s really much more of a hat tip to Bowie, the original person who introduced gender fluidity to me.
As I continue to make films with strongly blurred lines in regard to personal identification, I can’t imagine what my life or career would look like without such a strong influence early on. I can’t think of higher praise for a man I’ve never met and will never meet than to say he honestly dropped a fork in the road of my life.
I never meet David Bowie, but we did have an odd connection. A few years ago, I attended a Fashion Week event at Mr. Chow’s. It was not my scene at all, but I enjoyed the fabulous people being fabulous. I ended up at a table where the great beauty Iman was sitting. Not only was Iman one of the most famous models of all time, but she was also Mrs. David Bowie, making her double royalty. At some point in the evening, Iman sat next to me. I was quite intimidated, but pleasantly surprised as well. She said, “You know, David uses your name when he checks in to hotels.” Whoa. I was David Bowie’s code name when he was staying in rooms across the globe. Bowie, being an avid reader and music-business fixture, apparently had spotted by name back in the ’80s when I wrote for Billboard and decided my name was ripe for remixing. In tribute to the late great singer-songwriter, I plan on checking in to hotels as David Bowie in the very near future.
Meeting Bowie was the one time in my life I remember being starstruck. I found myself sitting at a dinner table with him and Iman and Moby in New York in the year 2000. I looked at the table and chair and hoped I would not fall onto the ground.
– Lucy Walker (The Crash Reel)
His introduction to me was as an actor and not a musician – aside from his hits that lived in semi-regular radio play, I didn’t really explore his music until college. But as a kid, I would walk past the glossy vinyl fold-in VHS copy of Labyrinth at the Hollywood Video shop in Overland Park, KS, and shirk in fear at the poster image wherein Bowie’s Jareth is holding his crystal orb with a menacing grin spread across his goblin face.
Upon some internal self-dare, I finally snatched up the copy one night and my parents rented it along with the other four or five films we’d picked for that weekend. I didn’t want to watch it at night, so I put it on during an afternoon in my basement on a big console TV which was plugged into a large, boxy VHS player. I was alone and nervous. When he first slithered onto the screen, my dread and fear turned to fascination and wonder. Was he human? Was he at least part reptilian or alien or of some spiritual ghostly magical composition … ? (Probably all of the above).
He had this ability with that role – and with every other role I would watch over the years to come – to embody his characters with a razor-sharp kind of style and simultaneous weird fluidity that was quite strikingly different than the style of “acting” most of his peers and scene partners would demonstrate. It was so odd. And I loved it. He had a kind of vulnerability and comfort in just being weird – as I’ve said somewhere else recently – just letting his body do weird things and usurping my expectations of what might happen next.
I am so honored to know that we were walking around earth in the same epoch. I would have loved to touch his hand or dance with him but that opportunity never presented itself. Alas, I can continue to dress up as him for years to come.