Monday, 22 June 2015


A very kind benefactor passed me a comprehensive fan-complied soundtrack for The Man Who Fell To Earth last week and it's put me back in Bowie mode again. Earlier today I revisited the 1981 BBC production of Brecht's rarely revived play Baal starring Bowie as the titular blackguard minstrel whose brings ruin (and death) to the lives of those who fall for his inexplicable charms. This was my first time proper seeing Baal, the previous attempt to get to grips with this difficult 80-odd minute teleplay was abandoned, but having read some Brecht in the interim has made it more palatable. Bowie is outstanding in the part, dirty and disheveled looking (and sporting some rotten teeth) and skillfully delivers some long and intricate passages of dialogue. Fans who don't give a damn about Brecht, can at least enjoy the Greek chorus of Baal's Hymn which Bowie sings and strums a banjo to at various points of the play, as well as performing a few casual songs in the cafe scenes, and in a fine Cockney voice reminiscent of his Deram days.

Directed by the great Alan Clarke, Baal makes few concessions to casual audiences - the sets are deliberately dull and airless and Clarke dutifully engages some Brechtian techniques to maintain the play's artifice - having Bowie say his lines with an odd lilt; or in a sequence where Baal and his friend trek thru a forest, both actors simply walk across an empty stage towards the camera, the set up repeated a number of times until the scene's conclusion. It's quite incredible to think that this production was shown on BBC1 in the prime time slot - it certainly wouldn't happen today, most likely relegated to one of the niche arts channels. Having said that, I don't believe Baal was ever shown again on television at least not in the 20 odd years I've been listening to Bowie. Fortunately, when I was searching for an image for this post, I discovered Baal is now available on youtube. Investigate with caution but do investigate...

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