Sunday, 8 January 2012

The Image (David Bowie, 1967)

In September 1967, David Bowie made his acting debut in a 14-min b/w short entitled The Image, written and directed by future Mark of the Devil director Michael Armstrong. In the film an artist is visited by the ghost of a young man appearing in one of the artist's painting. Disturbed by this apparition, the artist kills the young man again and again, before finally destroying the painting and banishing his unwelcome visitor. In the final shot of the film the young man is seen in a photograph belonging to the artist...



When Bowie spoke about the short film in the early 80's, he was less than kind, describing the film as "awful". Perhaps Bowie was remembering the arduous shoot which had him standing around for hours soaked to the skin while the film makers doused him with a hose to simulate rain. In fact The Image is far more deserving and is quite an accomplished little film. Much of it feels inspired by Repulsion, the film set in a sprawling, dilapidated London house but the film has a strong sinister atmosphere with Michael Armstrong scoring some nice visual touches using shadowy lighting and surreal camera angles, while Bowie delivers a strange and eerie performance putting the mime acting he was studying under the tutelage of Lindsay Kemp to very good effect. The film itself is dialogue free, but there's an impressive experimental soundtrack culled from De Wolfe library tracks. The film is surprisingly violent as well, with a scene where the artist stabs the young man with a knife, which causes the bleeding spectre to assume the pose of the young man in the painting. Unusually for a short, it earned an X rating from the BBFC.




The Image was given a brief theatrical run in 1969 accompanying a revival of Lewis Milestone's All Quiet on the Western Front, and then seemingly vanished for a few years returning briefly in the 70's and 80's when Bowie was a the height of his fame. Today, the short can be found easily online, but has yet to surface on an official DVD. Whatever about to Bowie's disdain for the film it's interesting to note that David Mallet's video for 1979's Look Back In Anger, includes some thematic parallels with The Image. In the video Bowie appears as an artist painting a self-portrait and has disturbing visions of his face becoming increasingly disfigured. As the artist's psychosis increases, the editing becomes more fractured and frenzied, much like the later sequences in The Image.



7 comments:

  1. Fascinating stuff as per usual Wes. I had no idea this existed, but it's something I'm really keen to see. Seems to be some twisting of the Pygmalion myth and Wilde's Dorian Gray in there too.
    Happy Birthday to David today too, 65 yrs young.

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  2. I haven't seen this, but it's nice to see someone on my blog roll paying homage to the great David Bowie on his birthday! :)

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  3. Thanks Guys... I had planned a day of Bowie stuff to mark the occasion, rounding up some of his more obscure film excursions - stuff on Baal, the Ricochet film, The 1980 Floor Show, David Bowie on Stage, Jazzin' for Blue Jean, Just a Gigolo , but I couldn't get it together in time. I'll drip feed 'em over the next few weeks...

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  4. Must check this one out, Wes. Sounds a bit like Meshes of The Afternoon as well.

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  5. Oh that's interesting Jon... I know Bowie used to show Un Chien Andalou as a backdrop on the Station to Station tour... I've collected quite a few compilation DVDs of avant-garde films over the years, I must start revisiting them at some stage. I think my favourite Underground Experimental films are Scorpio Rising, The Chelsea Girls and Pink Narcissus... Also, if anyone is interested in Experimental, Avant-Garde Cinema be sure to check out the amazing UbuWeb resource - they have a treasure trove of rare experimental films on their film page

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  6. Thanks for that, Wes. Just had a look - what an absolutely amazing resource!

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  7. Bowie is such an amazing entertainer - with a wildly varied career. I will track this down for sure!

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