David Bowie is

A fabulous exhibition called "David Bowie is," featuring items from the David Bowie collection at London's Victoria and Albert Museum (commonly called the V&A) has been touring the US but appearing only in big city venues like The Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago. For the bulk of Bowie fans that can't make it to see the exhibition in person, this film, also called David Bowie is, is a very nice consolation.

The "David Bowie is" exhibit is curated by Geoffrey Marsh and Victoria Broackes, the directors of the V&A, and they give the bulk of the commentary here as the exhibit is "toured" on film, pointing out David's baby pictures and things that you wouldn't think would exist today, like drawings that Bowie did as a schoolboy.

The tour presents Bowie's career chronologically but is focused more on the musical chameleon's distinct eras (Ziggy Stardust, the Thin White Duke, etc.) than specific years. Bowie himself does not comment much, perhaps with the idea of leaving his work to be interpreted as the viewer sees fit, although there is occasional voice over audio from the star and a couple of oddities, like a film clip of Bowie explaining the "Verbasizer" computer program he developed as an aid to lyric writing.

Flat video monitors of various sizes are hung on the walls like an array of paintings and these are constantly showing Bowie or Bowie-related scenes including on-stage performance and rare stuff like a lengthy miming segment.

Costumes from throughout Bowie's career are seen in one form or another, either the actual pieces or through film, and there are things like a display of all the covers not chosen for the The Next Day album (a rejiggered version of every previous Bowie release was considered.)

Of the other personalities appearing in the film the most recognizable is Jarvis Cocker of Pulp who talks about how Bowie's work influenced his own. The idea behind the title David Bowie is is for the viewer to fill in the blank after the word "is," and perhaps go well beyond the obvious picks of "musician," "poet," "fashionista," "actor" and the like. And that's how the film ends, in the last room of the exhibition where a good look is taken at Bowie's influence on pop culture where the likely correct assumption is made that Bowie's influence will continue to be felt long after he's gone.

If it were ill thought-out this film could have turned out quite dry but the end result here is that the viewer will be held rapt from start to finish while probably also coming away a much better-informed Bowie fan.

For the time being David Bowie is can only be viewed in theaters, a nationwide one-night showing takes place on Tuesday, September 23. A list of participating theaters can be viewed here.

Share this article

Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share on Google+ Pin it Share on Reddit email this article

tell a friend about this review