The Unicorn Scale: Moonage Daydream

By Liam Lambert

November 11, 2022



Photo credit: Image/ Neon/Universal Pictures

David Bowie was the first boy I ever loved. There. I said it. It feels good saying so. I know this doesn’t by any stretch make me special. There’s a generation of people who watched Labyrinth and felt... things. That codpiece made it all but impossible. 

But I came from a rock and roll household, you see. My parents had seen him several times before I was born, and once after. My mom brought home her shirt from the Sound and Vision ’90 tour, and I stole it almost immediately. I saw his last performance in Canada in 2004. Bowie was massively important to me, in all my phases as a kid. Punk rock weirdo, bookish indie fan, college student, whatever, there was Dave.

Impossible, beautiful, brilliant Dave. So, when this new documentary Moonage Daydream came out, I knew I had to see it immediately. I was not disappointed. This review will contain SPOILERS for the documentary. If this is your first time checking out a Unicorn Scale, take a look at the original article to know how we rate the Scales!

This is not a normal documentary, with interviews and talking heads waffling about how David Bowie changed their lives, and the culture, and blah, blah, blah, or clips strung together to cobble up a narrative about boundaries being stretched and hits being played over footage from the time in a You-Are-There sort of thing. This is almost entirely performance footage and interviews, creating a picture of someone creating himself in front of you, in real-time. 

And then doing it again, and again, and again. Sexuality is a big part of it, but not all of it. There’s space, and drugs, and politics, and dancing, and ridiculous clothes, and makeup, and awkward questions, and great answers. And the songs. The songs, the songs, the songs, in ways you’ve never heard them, even the famous ones. It’s one of the most beautiful, overwhelming films I’ve ever seen.

What I Liked:

The unusual approach to the subject, allowing him to speak for himself throughout, without any historical mitigation or hindsight allows you to really see David Bowie for what he was, a seeker. 

He is asked early in the film about why bisexuality is “so popular now, amongst young people” and his answer is truly illuminating. He says something along the lines of: “Well, for years, it was assumed that the point of life was to go to school, get a job, find a husband, or a wife, buy a house, have a family. Now, people are realizing there’s more to life than that, and it’s in that spirit of exploration of alternatives that so many [kids] are trying new kinds of sexuality, new modes of living, and that’s great.” It seems like this is a statement of purpose for Bowie’s entire life as an artist, constantly trying something new, even if it didn’t work, for the sake of it being new. 

There’s another moment where some clueless British TV personality asks him “Are those bisexual shoes?” to which he replies, with characteristic swift coolness, “They are shoes, you silly!” One really gets a sense that culture wasn’t sure what to do with Bowie, or if he was even a human being (Dick Cavett wonders at one point if he’s some kind of robot), but the kids know. 

His equal-opportunity audiences are full of both men and women who are eager for an opportunity to just see him for a moment, and the Beatles-level mania he inspired in the 70s is truly something to behold.

Image/ Neon/Universal Pictures

What I Didn't Like:

It was, as I said, overwhelming, both sonically and visually, and after over two hours, you sort of started feeling a little wrung out by the entire experience. And that his queerness only took up a small bit of screentime, when it was such an integral part of so much of his life and career, from dalliances with Lou Reed and Iggy Pop, to the cocaine weirdness of the 70s, to settling down with Iman in the 90s, it felt a little short change-y. 

One hopes there’s a bunch of extra footage that’ll flesh out some parts of this, maybe as DVD or Blu-Ray extras, or something. Because the main thing about David Bowie is, he’s too important to the queer community to give short shrift to that element of his life and career. He was the guy who made it okay for rock stars to bend genders, to wear dresses in public, and be avowedly gay. Dusty Springfield may have come out first, but nobody made near the splash Bowie did in 1972. 

He kicked open the door of queer-coding and was very open about things incredibly early, opening the door for artists as varied as Lou Reed, Morrissey, the Pet Shop Boys and Harry Styles to be a little freer in their gamesmanship when gender and queer identity came to the fore. Without a doubt, a whole documentary about just that element could (and should) be made, and be just as good, if not better.

Image/ Neon/Universal Pictures

The Rating:

It’s a dizzying, dazzling, flawed, wonderful, esoteric, trip through the life and mind of an artist who was all of that and more. If only it was a tiny bit more ranging in its subject matter, it’d be perfect. Regardless, finally in his own words, sanctioned by his estate, we don’t get the real Bowie per se, but would we want to? For now, this is close enough.

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