Outside of his music, casual fans of cultural icon Davie Bowie likely know him from one of the following: Labyrinth’s “Magic Dance”; Fire Walk With Me’s best scene; or his brilliant cameos in both Zoolander and Extras. But Bowie’s film work is, in some circles, as lauded as his music, as the artist’s physical presence could captivate in much the same way as his talent. It’s hard not to just look at Davie Bowie.
As David Hemmings, director of the notorious, Bowie-starring 1978 flop Just A Gigolo, says: “David has a special quality. The camera adores him. You can’t shoot him and lessen his attractiveness. The nature of the character he played demanded that I shy away from this...We took him into the worst shop in order to find the filthiest clothes and the real down-and-out look that was necessary for the character, and everything that David put on, it looked as if he’d just created a new fashion.”
An exhaustive new piece provided by TIFF serves as a fine primer of the entirety of Bowie’s film work, from his first turn as The Man Who Fell to Earth’s central alien to his vampiric work in Tony Scott’s The Hunger to his maligned performance in the much-maligned The Linguini Incident. Surprisingly, though there’s little mention of his relatively recent take on Nikola Tesla in Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige, the abundance of insight and collected quotes from previous collaborators makes up for that.
What’s especially neat, however, is the collection of film posters peppered throughout the analysis, with TIFF providing high-res shots that demonstrate just how much Bowie’s presence was used to sell a film. The numerous designs for the 1983 film Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence are especially revealing.