Film Review: David Bowie Is (2014, dir. Hamish Hamilton & Katy Mullan)

w610[David Bowie Is screens at Hollywood Theatre, Tuesday Nov. 18th at 9:30pm]

Review by Robert Ham

David Bowie Is isn’t so much a movie as a feature-length commercial for the exhibit of the same name, first presented at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London and now traveling around the world, that celebrates the life, career, and art of the titular chameleonic pop star.

That would be fantastic if the exhibit were coming anywhere near Portland. Or if this were a comprehensive documentary exploring all facets of Bowie’s long career in the music, film, and fashion world. As it stands, this is just a tantalizing teaser.

What this does wind up doing is stoking the fires for any longtime fan of the former David Jones, wending in TV footage, first person declarations of wonder by visitors to the original run of the exhibit as well as folks like Pulp frontman Jarvis Cocker and fashion designer Kansai Yamamoto, and little glimpses of the multimedia work that went into bringing “David Bowie Is” to reality.

From the look of what they put together for the exhibit, David Bowie Is might just inspire you to get a plane ticket for the Chicago opening. The curators did an amazing job of touching on all corners of Bowie’s life and work: from baby photos to early footage of the future superstar discussing men with long hair on British TV to many original and recreated iconic outfits from throughout his career to even a glass-encased modular synth that he used during his Berlin period.

The exhibit looks borderline overwhelming. But as the film shows, around every corner is another tantalizing bit of cloth, paper, sound or vision that will have fans drooling with desire. David Bowie Is does what it can to wrap it all up in a nice, neat, easy to swallow package, and comes as close as anyone to offering up the museum experience without filming each step of the way for a slow, 5+ hour experience. There are folks that might go for that, as there are folks that will be heading to the Windy City soon enough. This film is for them, not for the casual fan with a dusty CD copy of ChangesBowie in the back of their closet.

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