After seven years digging through archives, searching through mounds of recordings, and watching untold hours of footage, Brett Morgan managed to pull together a dazzling moonlit daydream—The first and only film about David Bowie to be approved by of late artist estate. Despite its classification as a documentary, the film Hardly any educational or historical vehicle. Rather, it is a vast technical experience that allows viewers to fill in some of the blanks in their understanding of Bowie.
and as much moonlit daydream Narrating the life and musical journey of the iconic musician, it also examines Bowie’s complex and ever-changing philosophy as an artist and a human being. spoke with morgan AV Club About the process of crafting this cinematic odyssey, its intriguing themes, and the process of finding inspiration in Disneyland’s Peter Pan ride.
AV Club: When it came to editing this film, how did you cross the line between crafting an experience that isn’t going to want to overwhelm the audience?
Brett Morgan: Well, you see, it never even crossed my mind. I prefer to feel the sound rather than hear the sound. I was thinking when I was watching the movie on IMAX, “You all are in my living room right now.” My television set is supersaturated. When my own movies play on television, the only time I have is to go and turn off Chroma. Because my chroma is already set high. I like to see the world through rose colored glasses and I love to feel the sound. That’s where the whole thing started, from a desire to create an immersive musical experience in IMAX before I knew I was doing David Bowie. my influence and inspiration were 400 blows, Peter Pan rides at Disneyland, and Pink Floyd. They are all very immersive experiences.
Sometimes people say that a work is as indulgent as criticism. Art is indulgent. I don’t want any artist to back down. Sometimes you need me—I think about the movie Jane, I was perhaps more restrained than ever in respect of the subject. But with Bowie, through him The line is chaos and fragmentation. That’s the story. The film was designed as a transmission from the 20th century to a drive-in on a different planet in the galaxy where sentient beings were watching one of themselves. And in my mind those people also spoke the language of anarchy and fragmentation. When I tried to pitch it didn’t go well. It is difficult to get money for that pitch, but that is how the film was pitched.
AVC: When you were going through all this footage, what was the moment when you were like, “Oh, his life is defined by this level of chaos.”
BM: from the beginning. He talked about it from the very beginning in the interviews I recorded. It was a subject and a subject. Bowie actually spoke to the press only when he was promoting an album. My favorite interview with Bowie was during the Berlin period, when he was out to campaign low And heroes, where he actually had a window and an opportunity to talk about chaos theory. I’m listening to this interview with Bowie, and he’s talking to a group of journalists at a hotel in Holland. He is saying, 300 years ago all we had to think about was where we were getting our food from. Most of the people lived in agrarian society. Right now, we are full of noise and information and ideas. When you walk down the street you hear a car passing by, and you hear a car crash, and a plane is going up, and someone is talking passing you. How has our brain evolved over 300 years to process all this media and information? David was making a soundtrack for that world.
David has this line where he says, “You will surf the chaos.” Because when you throw yourself into it, it no longer becomes chaotic. You know, it’s like bamboo. You go with it or you will break. So, David simply glide through life. Watching the footage, watching the interviews, was far more illuminating and life changing than anything I got from my bachelor’s degree. I went to school with the best: David Bowie. For two years, every day, six days a week. I was absorbing these interviews, and without going too deep on it, I had a heart attack just before it started. So I was at a point in my life where I was very receptive to some guidance.
AVC: What is the biggest lesson you learned from Bowie as his student?
BM: How to make each moment as adventurous as possible, and how to take each moment and see it as an opportunity for some kind of exchange or some kind of growth. Never waste a day. He has changed how I create. That’s changed what I’m going to do.
This movie forced me to go, it forced me to accept that there were no mistakes, just happy accidents. I had to learn to be comfortable. And it was not easy. it was painful. The footage was beautiful to watch, but I was working in a place that unfortunately, people think is a part of a genre called biographical documentary. There is a certain expectation and anticipation of what is going to happen. I was definitely trying to swim away from it as much as I could because for me cinema is my church. I don’t really go there for the facts. I go there to get some kind of experience. So that’s what took me to this point in my career. If it’s with Wikipedia, I don’t want it in my movie. Viewers can go and do it on their own. And I don’t—for Bowie’s sake—hear anyone trying to explain it to him other than myself. Because Bowie can’t really be defined. It’s a riddle, it means something different to you and something different to me. He was truly the ultimate mirror.
AVC: When you say you were looking to create this experience, where did you start? What was the part that opened the film for you?
BM: So I had my visual thing, well, then I had to figure out how to convince Bowie. The thing with Bowie was that he was very clear about his through-line. I accepted long ago that the film should have a story. It was never going to be 40 minutes—I couldn’t contain it in under 40 minutes. It required a narrative, but I didn’t want it to be obvious. I didn’t want the audience to come in and there was no secret. I don’t get the point in television documentaries where they preview what’s going to happen on the show, and you see all these clips. Like, why did you give away the whole film before the film started? Because the whole idea of that stuff is not to be lost. The idea of that stuff is to always maintain some sort of orientation. This whole movie was about getting lost and accepting that there can be no answer. That is the beauty of art.
The key to the film was when David said, “When I was a kid, I heard Fats Domino on the radio. And I didn’t understand the word he was saying. And that’s why I found it so intriguing. It was the mystery.” I wanted the film to have that kind of suspense, but I don’t know if all the audience wants to be lost in the dark for a few hours. This line is very deliberately placed in the film for 20 minutes. Because in 20 minutes when He references the mystery of art, so you say, “Oh, that’s what’s going on.” If I had said it from above, there would never have been a mystery.
AVC: What is your favorite clip that came up during your research?
BM: You are not expecting what I am going to tell you. It was an interview, I think, with a Canadian journalist from 1987, who was entertainment tonight or the Canadian version entertainment tonight, He didn’t do any homework on who David Bowie was. She sits down and he sits down and I’m like, “It’s not going to be okay.” It was clear that he did not know who he was at the time. And David starts talking to her about the books. “Oh, have you read the new…? It’s absolutely fantastic.” And she was completely mad at someone, and then David says, “So tell me what you’re reading.” And that was the moment when I was like, “Every moment is an opportunity for exchange.” If you’re there, and I’m here, let’s do something.
AVC: What is the biggest message you want the audience to take away when they leave the theater?
BM: I would say the message is: How should I spend my tomorrow? Am I taking advantage of the limited time I have left? That is personal. Then there’s the big one: What a wonderful life. That’s how you do it. This guy knew how to do it and he did it better than almost anyone if not.
AVC: As a Bowie fanboy, what is your favorite song and favorite era?
BM: 1995 to 1997 is my favorite era, and my favorite song of the day or hour, because it changes moment by moment, let’s go with “Signet Committee”.