by Jane Roser
See what I did there? “David Bowie is…” could be followed by just about anything: David Bowie is a saxophone player (true), David Bowie is not a knight (he was offered, but said nah). The new documentary filmed in conjunction with the groundbreaking exhibition “David Bowie Is” at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum looks at Bowie’s accomplishments as a pioneer in the music industry by taking us on a tour of all that David Bowie is (and was).
The exhibition includes over 300 items including handwritten lyrics, set designs, album artwork, diary entries, sketches, photographs and rare performance material from the past five decades. Curators Victoria Broackes and Geoffrey Marsh were granted unprecedented access to these items and present them to the public in chronological order, starting from Bowie’s years as a teenager in an England facing the devastating effects of World War II to the early 2000s when he retired from touring (I was lucky enough to see Bowie when he toured with Trent Reznor after his “I’m Afraid Of Americans” single was released and to say it was a spectacular performance is putting it mildly).
On display are more than 60 stage costumes including the Ziggy Stardust bodysuits and the Union Jack coat designed by Alexander McQueen for the Earthling album cover. Music videos, excerpts from film and live television performances add a stunning visual element to the exhibition.
Filmed on the closing night of the V&A exhibit and directed by BAFTA winning director Hamish Hamilton, this is the first time a major exhibition has displayed Bowie’s personal effects and presents the question who or what is David Bowie? “David Bowie is happening now”, “David Bowie is blowing our minds”; Bowie believed that we all inhabit different personalities and he wanted to be thought of as an instigator of new ideas. He was quite aware of self-promotion and designed his own sets and costumes in the beginning of his career, fusing together the best elements of music and theater.
In her recent memoir, There Goes Gravity, rock journalist Lisa Robinson remembers Bowie when he showed up to an interview wearing sunglasses, a white bangle bracelet and a red Speedo. Years later he told her, “I was an experimenter. Particularly during those early years, I was experimenting with my emotional life. I threw myself a test of absorbing every possible experience that I could while I was young, with no realization of what happens later.” That statement sums up this definitive exhibition perfectly.
The documentary will be screened in a select 100 theaters across the U.S. for one day only to coincide with the exhibition opening at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago.
You can see David Bowie Is at ArtsQuest in Bethlehem, PA and the Ritz 5 in Philadelphia on September 23rd. Visit www.davidbowie.com/davidbowieis to find out more about the film and the exhibit.