Last week, I watched ‘David Bowie: The Last Five Years’ (2017). This is a 2017 BBC television documentary created by the director Francis Whately, which was aired on the eve of the late, great singer David Bowie’s 70th birthday. Bowie had sadly died last year 3 days prior to this.
I watched this on a Saturday night, after having briefly watched some shitty singing reality shows whilst reading. I sat down with my mum with a brew, and tuned into this captivating documentary about this amazing musician.
David Bowie is one of the most influential musicians ever. Not only did he help pioneer musical genres (from the 1970s to present day), he pushed boundaries in contemporary art through his innovative music videos, campaigned for sexual equality and identity, and inspired many. Bowie played a predominant role in British culture and (as mentioned above) sadly died last year due to cancer. This television film was composed of a mixture of old and new footage of David Bowie, the man behind the alter-ego of Iggy Star, and was a touching way to commemorate the ending of Bowie’s career and life.
The reason I liked this documentary so much was because it reminded me of a poignant obituary. This was composed of interviews from backing singers, accompanying musicians and producers giving anecdotes of their time with the singer, as well as touching insights about the musician’s life on the road and unseen live footage of Bowie’s final 5 years of his life.
The documentary was interspersed with acknowledgements of how Bowie had always wanted to be famous and his ambitions with regards to his career, which was ultimately twinged with sadness at the hindsight of him being deceased. For example, Bowie metaphorically described how living in the public eye was like living in a fishbowl. Similarly, Bowie described fame as a ‘luxuriant mental hospital’, and that ‘it’s great when you want to get tickets for a concer… but the rest of the time it’s a pain in the ass’. The documentary then went on to hint that Bowie had made a deal with the devil by seeking fame.
I think what struck me most about this documentary was how autobiographical it was despite Bowie not actually having been alive when it was created (let alone aired). The documentary was like viewing a piece of Bowie’s personal life as laid out by himself… Some of the footage was so sentimental and personal, giving away details like the fact that Bowie had not performed since 2006, and told no one except those working on the album that he was creating anything – it was to be his first new album in a decade.
Similarly, through the images of Bowie interspersed with interviews from close colleagues and musical friends way, it was evident that not only was Bowie so inspirational because of the image he created, but was extremely conscious of the image he’d become (in terms of age, the way one matures, and obviously having to deal with a terminal disease). Similarly, it was extremely touching to see different bands, musicians and producers that Bowie performed with in his final years. It was like a scrap book. The director Wheatly also made ‘David Bowie: Five Year’s (2013), which I have yet to see but look forward to this.
This was very insightful. This was touching. This was nostalgic. This was sad. Bowie gave his all. He exposed himself musically and personally relentlessly, and gave his all to the alter ego he had created. This documentary reflected on what fame meant, and made me feel introspective about why we strive for fame, why we idealise celebrities, why we want everything out of these humans that we idealise. Bowie gave his all, and we took it. This documentary is a great cultural obituary for an absolute legend. Rest In Piece Bowie – you will be sorely missed.