The release of the film “Moonage Daydream,” which takes an innovative approach to chronicle the creative evolution of music icon David Bowie, could not be timelier for Cal State Fullerton musicology professor Katherine Reed.
The two-hour, 14-minute documentary is reaping overwhelmingly positive reviews and is described by Rotten Tomatoes as a “cinematic odyssey” exploring Bowie’s “creative, spiritual and musical journey.”
“Moonage Daydream” opened globally on Friday, just a few months ahead of the release of Reed’s first-ever book, “Hooked to the Silver Screen: David Bowie and the Moving Image,” which Reed promises to be a deep exploration into the music legend’s audio-visual work, encompassing music videos, films and even commercials.
With several framed Bowie album covers filling a wall in her office, Reed has been drawn to Bowie’s body of work as both an academic and fan.
“Bowie is an interesting artist because of how culturally literate he is,” the professor said. “He draws from so many different influences that listening to his music and looking at the way he presents himself is sort of a fascinating puzzle. You can listen to a Bowie album and dance to it, but once you start digging into the lyrics, once you start looking at the music styles that he is borrowing from, once you start thinking about those influences, it becomes an even more interesting musical work.”
Translating the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee’s life and work into a single movie presented a significant challenge for “Moonage Daydream” director Brett Morgan, Reed said.
Reed, who has seen the film, said Morgen chose to focus on particular moments in Bowie’s career, devoting much of the film to the legendary musician’s superstardom of the 1970s.
Narrated by Bowie himself, the film uses live concert footage and material from his private archives and is the first film to be officially authorized by Bowie’s estate.
“As someone who studies Bowie’s use of the moving image, I found a lot to be excited about, including new footage showing Bowie’s film projects and stage performances,” Reed said. “Moonage Daydream” is as ambitious as its subject, drawing together decades of footage and varied influences into one unique documentary.”
Reed’s observations on the film are in line with reviews given by several film and music critics.
Rotten Tomatoes calls the film “an audiovisual treat for Bowie fans” and says the documentary “takes an appropriately distinctive approach to one of modern music’s most mercurial artists.”
Brian Tallerico, whose review is posted on RogerEbert.com, writes:
“Moonage Daydream is a stunning achievement in editing, cutting across eras and settings not to the rhythm of the music as much the mood of it.”
Reed also said the film and her book delve into many of the same areas.
“I think anyone who was intrigued by the documentary would find even more to dig into my book,” she said.
Reed’s book project was supported by a CSUF Innovative Research and Creative Activities Grant.
The musicologist started on the project shortly after Bowie’s death in 2016.
“I spent a lot of time reflecting on his work and how important it is to me as a fan and as an academic,” Reed said. “This was an area that really felt like it was ready for more exploration, and I was excited to do it.”
Reed received a research fellowship at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame library and archives in Cleveland, Ohio, for the project.
She poured over newspaper interviews and visited the “David Bowie is,” traveling exhibition in New York and Chicago.
“It’s wonderful to see the work that you really know from a different perspective, to understand familiar songs and familiar performances from a different point of view,” Reed said of her research for the book. “I was able to see connections that would not have been readily apparent before, and that was really the exciting part.”
“David Bowie and the Moving Image” is divided into two large segments.
The first is an examination of Bowie as an author and a director, looking at the ways that the artist conceptualized the use of the moving image, Reed said.
The second segment probes into the ways Bowie’s image and music were interpreted by others through his acting roles, depictions on film, and his role as a pitchman, performing in commercials for Pepsi Cola, MTV, Luis Vuitton and other companies.
Reed’s book is in the final stages of editing and has already received at least two reviews.
Robynn Stilwell, professor of musicology at Georgetown University, described “David Bowie and the Moving Image” as a “wide-ranging study” that “literally looks at David Bowie from stage to screen, a musical performer, an actor, a conceptualist, a figure both avant-garde and commercial, an ‘alien’ who reflected his audiences back to themselves.”
Chris O’Leary, author of “Rebel Rebel” and “Ashes to Ashes,” wrote: “Katherine Reed’s insightful study goes from the Diamond Dogs tour to Bowie’s Vittel and Vuitton TV ads to his afterlife in films and shows how intertwined Bowie the rock musician and Bowie the image (and image maker) always were.”