Moonage Daydream is a cosmic flash bang grenade of cinema. At once biographical and at the same time a heaving amorphous figure of light and sound, Brett Morgen’s ode to one David Bowie refuses to play by any perceived rules of documentary filmmaking. And, much like Bowie, Morgen’s film is an ever shapeshifting beast that refuses to be anything other than a true experience for the senses.
Aptly beginning on the dark side of the moon and tearing through Bowie’s life from Ziggy Stardust to Let’s Dance, his many contributions to art, be it music or painting, Moonage Daydream can feel like a listen through the album of Bowie’s life. At times, overwhelming, other times it feels intrusive. It’s as if Morgen, with the archive of Bowie’s life at his fingertips, has torn open a hole in the space / time continuum, finding a gateway into the creative’s brain, allowing us to wander through the deep recesses of a genius’ consciousness, a peak into infinite imagination. It’s a film that can be at times too much to bear. Loud, explosive, prismatic and intense, I often felt like I was wrestling with Morgen’s creation, trying to stop my synapses from firing on all cylinders. As creatively brash as it is, there’s a knee jerk reaction that can occur with the film, where it’s decided to take you for a ride long before you’re ready to leave the station.
At the screening I attended at this year’s MIFF, Morgen was in attendance and went to great lengths to wrangle expectations of the film, telling the audience that it acted less as a standard biography and more as a piece of art to experience. But “experience” doesn’t feel like a succinct enough term to describe Moonage Daydream. It’s a temporary antidote, a brief reprieve from the monotony and harshness of our current reality. And it might be easy to find some portions of it pretentious, and for any other artist perhaps this would be the case. But it’s both Bowie’s legacy, his vibrancy and his music that also helps ground the film and move it away from any semblance of hollow self-satisfaction.
For the die-hards and those with a mere passing knowledge, Moonage Daydream feels like a playful challenge, paying creative dividends by the end of its lengthy runtime. Simply give your mind to the proceedings, and have your hand held as you tour Bowie’s universe. Your imagination will thank you.