Originally published on The National Student on 06/03/17.
The classic Bowie concert film from renowned filmmaker D. A. Pennebaker is shooting back into UK cinemas for one night only, and is well worth the trip out.
To some, David Bowie’s early-70s stint as the alien-born, androgynous rock star Ziggy Stardust, which spawned two of his greatest albums and a country-hopping sell-out world tour, is the artist’s finest hour. Complete with fiery red hair, otherworldly make-up and some of the most extravagant costumes you’ll ever see in your life, it’s the persona most frequently associated with the dearly-departed rock god.
In many ways, this makes Pennebaker’s 1973 concert film of Bowie’s final ever performance as Ziggy, with his backing group the Spiders From Mars, the quintessential cinematic treat for fans of the self-confessed ‘leper messiah’. It’s a rare treat to be able to witness Bowie’s sheer musical prowess and explosive stage presence on the big screen, and for fans this doc comes highly recommended. It’s one of the most legendary gigs in the history of rock music, captured beautifully and completely in all its shimmering glory.
Filled out with a recently-filmed half-hour interview with the band’s last remaining member, drummer Woody Woodmansey as a precursor, and plenty of backstage footage of the man himself, Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars is the ultimate testament to the raw power of the star at the very height of his glam rock love affair.
The gig itself is largely hits from both The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars and Aladdin Sane, the two key Ziggy-based albums, with a few here and there from the likes of Hunky Dory and Space Oddity too, not to mention the occasional cover thrown in for good measure. Put it this way, fans of the Bowie-written, Mott the Hoople hit ‘All the Young Dudes’ will be more than pleased.
And whilst it’s Bowie’s incredible presence and musical mastery that really leads the pack with this one, Pennebaker and his crew’s gentle documentary-driven touch deserves a whole heap of praise too. There’s no flashy or abstract imagery a la David Lynch’s Duran Duran concert work, or really any of the more invasive angles of Jonathan Demme’s more acclaimed live films; whilst the band are on stage, Pennebaker positions himself very much as a fan and in many ways, it’s this which immortalises this final gig best.
What would otherwise simply be a lost mythical show performed at the very heights of Bowie’s artistic majesty is now forever memorialised for generations to come. Even if you weren’t there it’s very easy to pretend that you are; high among the crowds and in the presence of one of the greatest performers of all time.
Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars will be back in UK cinemas across the country for one night only this evening.