DAVID BOWIE: THE LAST FIVE YEARS

Thin White Duke

(DOC NYC started November 9 and ran through November 16. HtN has you covered with reviews so keep checking back!)

If you like David Bowie, you will like David Bowie: The Last Five Years. Director Francis Whately (David Bowie: Five Years, which – take note – is not the same movie) offers up a profile of the pop-cultural icon in his final years (he died at the age of 69 on January 10, 2016), as the title suggests. That last half-decade proved surprisingly creative, given that the man had quit touring and writing new music in 2004, after a health scare. Starting in 2011, he suddenly began to compose a new album, The Next Day (released in 2013). There would be one more, Black Star (released two days before his death), and also a stage musical, Lazarus, which premiered at the end of 2015. Not bad for a man with a heart condition who would eventually die of cancer.

Filled with fascinating archival footage and interviews of people who knew Bowie, the film takes us on a journey through the highlights of his career, starting with the 2003/2004 “A Reality Tour.” That pan-global voyage began well, but ended after 8 months (it was meant to last 10), as we learn, when Bowie suffered a mild heart attack and was hospitalized. In the years following, Bowie would become a much more private person than before, eschewing most public appearances. Until one day, he felt ready to make new music.

There is so much to recommend here, but what we don’t really get is a portrait of Bowie, the man. Nor is this a good film for those who come to its viewing without an already well-developed sense of Bowie’s importance. It’s a cinematic tribute, made to showcase Bowie’s resurgent artistic output ahead of his death. There’s nothing wrong with that, and it is quite the treat to hear and see so much of one of the 20th century’s great rock stars, but it’s important to know what the film is not. If you want a definitive biography of Bowie, look elsewhere. If you want what the title advertises, and not much else, then this will suit you just fine.

– Christopher Llewellyn Reed (@ChrisReedFilm)

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