Saturday, 21 August 2010

Cracked Actor - A film about David Bowie

Filmed by the BBC in August/September of 1974, Cracked Actor is a superb snapshot of David Bowie during the American leg of his Diamond Dogs tour. The documentary has over the years achieved something of an infamous reputation for showing Bowie, well into a long cocaine addiction, looking gaunt and frail. Bowie himself would admit in later years that revisiting the documentary was a painful experience. All that aside, Cracked Actor is an intelligent, sensitive film, and finds Bowie in a whirlwind of creativity - on stage the Diamond Dogs songs, only a few months old were already mutating from the hard rock stomp of the album, to a more soulful black sound, which Bowie was soaking up, in preparation for the Young Americans LP. Bowie is also seen applying the Brion Gysin/William Burroughs' technique of the Cut-Ups to his lyrics, by literally cutting and pasting different lyric sheets together.

Bowie remains refreshingly unpretentious about his music discussing the impact of fame, the Frankenstein's monster that was Ziggy Stardust, and his interest in creating different personas. Bowie is gracious, revealing and down to earth which is more than can be said for some of his fans interviewed for the film, spaced oddities trying to come to terms with the enigma that is Bowie. Music wise, Cracked Actor sees Bowie in tremendous form on stage. The documentary includes rare live footage from a show at Los Angeles Universal Amphitheater and some cuts from D.A. Pennebaker's, then hard-to-see, 1973 film of the Ziggy Stardust retirement concerts. There's some well chosen songs from Bowie's LPs too - Quicksand and After All and a brief scene of Bowie rehearsing Right. Only once does the film come off the rails when during a live version of Rock n' Roll Suicide, there's an unnecessary and maudlin tribute to rock casualties - Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Brian Jones.

Perhaps Cracked Actor's most significant achievement is that it gave Nicholas Roeg the idea to cast David Bowie in his 1976 film, The Man Who Fell To Earth. Roeg had seen the documentary on TV and was instantly drawn to Bowie's alien-ness. In fact Roeg would work some scenes from the documentary into his film - the scenes in Cracked Actor where Bowie is travelling in the back of a limousine across Middle America (Bowie hated to fly) would later reappear in similar form in Roeg's film, not to mention the hat that Bowie wears would turn up in the famous last shot of Roeg's film.

The Man Who Sold the World...
...and the Man Who Fell To Earth


  1. Fantastic blog. I got a real kick out of your Cronenberg posts below. I've recently been worshipping at the altar of the New Flesh on my own humble blog:

  2. Thanks for the comments and the kind words Aylmer. I've udated my Cronenberg/Warhol post now to include a link to your Interzone posts. Absolutely fascinating reading.

  3. Wes, the links are much appreciated. This is the coolest blog I've stumbled across for a while, so I'll be lurking.

  4. My brother is the biggest Bowie fan in the world so he's always been at least on the fringes of my awareness and later I developed my own fondness for our erstwhile Thin White Duke. I will try to track this down - and I'll give my brother a heads up on it as well...thanks, Wes!

  5. Craig, I reckon your brother would know about this, it's a pretty famous bit of Bowie lore, it's been slightly mythologized over the years, I've seen music journos who clearly hadn't seen it, describe Bowie as a delirious coked out space cadet but he's much more articulate, if slightly dazed from the unhealthy LA lifestyle he was leading at the time

    1. You are quite right - he owns this documentary.