Director and writer Sonia Anderson’s flagrant, botched attempt to cash in on the life and death of David Bowie in 2016 now surfaces on Netflix.
The displeasure was all mine.
Watching Sonia Anderson’s 2016 botchumentary on David Bowie, ‘The Man Who Changed The World’ with a fellow Bowie child from the golden era of Ziggy Stardust vintage was a queasy, chalkboard scraping, toe-curling, teeth grinding, beggar's belief waste of 1 hour 38 minutes that can sadly never be retrieved.
Just how far the bar has been lowered by Netflix in the guise of providing ‘entertainment’ was there for all to see. The insult to Bowie’s legacy by this flimsy, rotten tomato of a supposed ‘intimate portrait’ (just laughable) came in the shape of an ill-conceived, tossed off piece of swiss cheese flim-flam, completely unworthy of the man, the myth, his extraordinary influential catalogue of classic songs, the personae that inspired millions, or the indelible mark on music and popular culture he left behind.
The cringing, artless script, the dreadful out of sequence, mish-mash editing, showing pictures of an 80s/90s and noughties Bowie whilst talking about his rise to fame in the late 1960s and 70s, thus negating the path of his metamorphoses.
The moronically robotic, passionless voiceover, the cheap stock clips of less than incisive interviews, the talking heads: (two ex-girlfriends, a manager’s assistant, the bloke who punched him in the eye, ‘Whispering’ Bob Harris and rent a chart quote, Paul Gambaccini (hardly insiders) a blink-and-you-miss-it quote from Angie Bowie, and the producer of Madness, who worked with D B for but a few weeks on a soundtrack album with other artists, and stared into his glasses during the interview as though he had been at the manger next to the baby Jesus, and couldn’t believe his luck.
That’s your lot.
Tellingly, and nowhere to be seen, were his lifelong friends and producers, Tony Visconti, Brian Eno, or Peter Frampton. Nor indeed the co-writer and producer of his most commercially successful period of Let's Dance, Nile Rodgers, or the members of his bands, past or present, including Spiders from Mars drummer, Woody Woodmansey, long-time guitarists Earl Slick or Reeves Gabrels, or bassist Gail-Ann Dorsey. His great mate, Iggy Pop, had one small segment culled from an 80s pop show interview. Otherwise, nothing. Collaborators like Mick Jagger and Brian May - all pointedly conspicuous by their absence.
And is it any wonder? Which of them would willingly associate themselves with this lazy, fuzzy-headed piece of time filler that had the look, the feel, and all the attention to detail and gravitas of an episode of Max Headroom?
Anderson’s squalid, contemptible piece of dashed off chicanery was doomed the moment it opened on a Man who fell to Earth era Bowie being interviewed via transatlantic link by the queen of sniffy camp arrogance, the much-maligned Russell Harty, whose condescending, bitchiness toward his guests would receive what it truly deserved years later when Grace Jones beat the hell out of him live on air. Of what significance was this excruciatingly embarrassing ‘interview’ to the viewer? In what sense was this a fitting introduction to ‘The man who changed the world?’
From there it just got worse: the sad parade of cobbled together stock footage, the terrible omissions: where were the details concerning his adoption of and then jettisoning of Ziggy to morph into New York soul boy on Young Americans? Oh, I’m sorry, you had jumped two albums, including Diamond Dogs, and were discussing Station to Station out of sequence and completely overlooking it. My mistake.
Where was the universally accepted lightbulb moment for whole generations of future artists, musicians, writers and creatives, on July 6th 1972 when, complete with blue acoustic guitar, fiery red hair and pink nail varnish David Bowie hove into view on Top of the Pops and blew our minds, spawning thousands of lookalikes, providing hope and inspiration for every dysfunctional Kook, just like me, who knew they were different and were looking for a North Star to set their compass by?
Where was the proper look at his flight to 155 Hauptstrasse in Berlin, where, having stared down the barrel of his cocaine addiction, he wrote the magical trilogy of Low, Heroes and The Lodger?
Where was the acknowledgment of the inspiration for Gary Numan, the new Romantics and after the album, Low the explosion of synth generated pop and Depeche Mode?
His forays into film? His business savvy, his pioneering adoption of the internet? His remarkable, brave final two albums made under the Damaclesian sword of death?
Where were the artists who covered his songs that provided them with hits? Mott the Hoople’s classic rendition of 'All the Young Dudes,’ Nirvana’s take on ‘The Man who sold the world.’ Oasis version of ‘Heroes’ White Stripes ‘Moonage Daydream’, Nine Inch Nails ‘I’m afraid of Americans’?
I’ll tell you. They were at the end of a barge pole, miles away.
Any person born after the 1980s and not necessarily aware of just how inspiring and vital David Bowie was and is to millions of his fans would have absolutely no idea of his import or depth of reach after watching this travesty in his name. They would be clueless as to the stellar arc and trajectory of his life and career in music. They, like we, would have learned absolutely nothing of note to understand the title of the documentary or the impact and influence his incarnation as Ziggy Stardust had. Or his blue-eyed Philadelphia soul, his Thin White Duke period, his Let’s Dance bleached bop or his 1995 and 97 drum and bass phase including Little Wonder and Spaceboy, that showed that whilst he was no longer trailblazing, he could mix it with the best with his adoption, adaption, and synthesis of a variety of current musical mediums. How David Bowie dared to reinvent himself time and time again, even in the throes of success, like no artist before or since.
I dread to think what Sonia Anderson left on the cutting room floor if this is what made it to screen. She would have been better advised to leave the whole sorry mess there and start again with a fitting, properly researched, and much better written and spoken tribute to one of the most important and far-reaching artists of the 20th and 21st Century.
As it is, she co-opted Bowie to make her quasi proprietary mockery of a documentary and deliver a feeble, amateurish cocktail of awkward, inelegant, directionless pap, hurriedly and shamelessly copy-pasted and pushed out on the back of his death.
David Bowie’s life and legacy deserved so much better than Sonia Anderson, who was clearly out of her depth with a subject whose richness and complexity were beyond her capabilities.
This was not the man who sold the world, this was the director who sold the pup. And Netflix bought it.
But not us.
File it under tragedy, or rock and roll suicide.