As City Screen prepares for a live screening cinema event from the hit David Bowie exhibition in London, fan Jack Titley guides us through the highlights
With his first number one album in 20 years announcing his shock comeback earlier this year, David Bowie has been introduced into a new generation whilst still keeping the older die-hards coming back for more.
Preceding this came the announcement by London’s Victoria and Albert Museum that it was to host an exhibition containing over 300 pieces plucked from the Dame’s own personal archive. Months before Bowie’s new single The Next Day was released, V&A tickets sales flew through the roof and into Major Tom’s ill-fated (or was it?) spaceship, making it the museum’s fastest seller ever.
If you didn’t manage to get your hands, stiff from doing the Heroes pose, onto a priceless ticket, Hang On To Yourself – you can have a guided tour of the exhibition (by the curators themselves, nonetheless!) from the comfort of City Screen in York.
This week, David Bowie is happening now is hitting cinemas nationwide, a live screening showcasing the best bits of the enormous V&A display before it goes on a world tour.
Having visited the exhibition, here are my six things to look out for from the vast and varied collection.
A real rarity, this! Taking inspiration from the Twenties’ French costume designs that fuelled the teenage Davie Jones’ fascination with mime, this bizarre creation was worn on the Duke’s 1979 Saturday Night Live performance of The Man Who Sold the World.
With two gaping holes for the arms and a conical bottom half, it is reminiscent of a penguin with its legs glued together, and as such is one of the strangest guises on show – and that’s saying something, with the warped Japanese concoctions, leathery leotards and salmon pink jumpsuits in the weighty collection.
Also look out for: The icons – the Starman jumpsuit, the Life On Mars video suit, the pierrot Ashes costume etc.
Original album artwork
Bowie reclines, half-naked, a feral sphinx-like creature in the foreground, whilst two grotesque slave beings, hunched close behind, gaze disdainfully into the soul of the onlooker.
Ever intrigued by works like Fritz Lang’s Metropolis and 1984, Guy Peellaert shows Ziggy like we’ve never seen him before; as the Buddha of Dystopia, a freak hybrid of human and canine, offering a frightening glimpse into Bowie’s own apocalyptic vision.
The artwork is startling to this day. Painted by Peellaert after a recommendation by Mick Jagger, the dog’s genitals were airbrushed out of the final cover, but are still very noticeable on the original canvas.
Also look out for: Scary Monsters artwork, original sleeve notes for Hunky Dory
“I’m helpless hope you’re hopeless too.” A draft of the famous Ashes To Ashes line, nowhere near as powerful as the finished product, yet still engaging to see how the master songwriter develops his ideas; often actually simplifying drastically, but with much greater effect.
An example of this is the canning of “and I hear the clash and I don’t react” in favour of “and I ain’t got no money and I ain’t got no hair” – less subtle, but better imagery.
Also look out for: Fashion (“We’ll break every bone / We’ll turn you upside down / Beep beep”), Heroes (“And the mirrors / Cowered lest we fall”)
Scattered around the exhibition are various posters, novels and costumes which clearly resonate right through Bowie’s life and career, from the early years of the King Bees till long After Today.
Highlights include posters for Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, a 1927 film which made such an impact on him that the stage design for the Diamond Dogs tour (also on show) was based on said poster; Kansai Yamamoto’s whirlwind designs that inspired the Aladdin Sane metallic bodysuit (pictured above); and even a photograph of Little Richard from the Fifties, as the youthful Duke dreamed of being in his band ever since his father bought him a saxophone for his ninth birthday.
These exhibits offer another compelling insight into his mind, and some answers to the question that has plagued artists for years: “Where do you get your ideas?”
Also look out for: Andy Warhol’s Chelsea Girls, Byron Gyson’s cutting up method
Alan Yentob’s 1974 documentary Cracked Actor shows Bowie at one of the most fragile stages of his life – drained by cocaine, marriage with Angie breaking down – and a glimpse behind the spangly showbiz curtain of 1970s pop culture.
Despite his vulnerable condition, something nobody wants to see, it offers an intriguing insight into his thoughts on his career at the time – “The first thrust of being unknown to being what seemed to be very quickly known… was very frightening. I never wanted to be a rock’n’roll star” – whilst also featuring the only known footage from the USA-exclusive Diamond Dogs tour.
Also look out for: Inspirations documentary interviews, various live performances
The photography on display is iconic, insightful and personal, showcasing Bowie’s artistic eye and all sides of his personality.
Highlights include a series of stills from the Diamond Dogs publicity shoot and the photos that inspired the Hunky Dory album cover, both of which portray him as lord-like; laid-back yet knowing that he is in total control.
Also, the Aladdin Sane shot (the first time we ever see Ziggy) is still stirring, 40 years since it was shown to the world, and the Mick Rock photo at the end of the final show at the Hammersmith Odeon that encapsulates a second that shook the music world – the final time he blew our minds.
Bowie, bathed in golden light, seems a truly otherworldly figure, with outstretched arms, reptilian eyes and red shock of hair. An incredibly artistic shot considering the importance of the moment.
Also look out for: “The Kon-Rads”, Life On Mars shoot, backstage during the Ziggy tour
So, if the film manages to show half of what’s in the exhibition, you’ll leave the cinema sporting dreamy eyes, wishing for that blue suit or a Serious Moonlight poster, and you’ll have to be physically restrained from entering the V&A’s online store.
I was lucky enough to go to the exhibition itself, and was hugely surprised at its depth and detail. The live cinema event is a must for all those who are wannabe White Dukes. You’ll truly be glued to the silver screen.
Sorry. I couldn’t resist.
- David Bowie is happening now live is on Tuesday, August 13 from 7pm
- More details on the City Screen website