Last week I saw the spectacular documentary David Bowie Is, a companion documentary and virtual tour guide about the museum exhibit of the same name.
I admit that I was only moderately interested in seeing this film. I liked Serious-Moonlight-era Bowie. I know he was a major influence on a lot of musicians I like, including Duran. And since my local indie theater was one of the many across the nation to show the one-night-only screening (sound familiar?), I decided to take a chance.
My first Duran comparison came when I entered the theater and was pleasantly disappointed: the theater was almost full. Why was that disappointing? Because the recent one-night-only Unstaged showing (at a different theater in the same city) had probably only 1/10th of the audience that this film had. I couldn’t help but wish that Unstaged had a crowd like this, had received as much local advertising as Bowie’s film, and had been introduced by the theater’s program director who invigorated the crowd before the curtain went up.
Why was that a pleasant disappointment? Because it served as a reminder to me that we Duranies are part of a larger community. We’re not just Duran fans; we’re fans. Judging by the estimated ages of the crowd, I think most folks who came to see the film were around for the Ziggy Stardust era. This wasn’t much unlike when I looked around during the Unstaged screening. Or any of the Duran concerts I’ve been to. Or Durandemonium last year. For a lot of us, we’re fans of these artists because we grew up with them.
At some moments during the film, I witnessed some audience members bobbing their heads along to not-as-well-known (to me) Bowie songs. I instantly felt like I was on the other side of the looking glass. Were they enjoying their own Bowie version of Last Chance on the Stairway? Did I happen to catch them reveling in their own version of “switch it off?” Do they have their own inside Bowie-isms? Were they itching to get out of their seats to dance along to their version of “Rio?”
What dawned on me was that this film was not only a tribute to the legendary rock star and his influence in music, fashion, and art, but also a tribute to the fans. The exhibit is a befitting homage to Bowie’s life and career to date. However, the film adds a new angle: the reaction from those experiencing the exhibit. The film shows visitors inspecting the handwritten lyrics, watching the performance footage, inching closer to see the detail in the decadent costumes. The film editors could have easily filmed the exhibit when it was closed and simply relayed to us what was in the exhibit. But this way, we also got the fan perspective of the exhibit.
As you might guess, my mind overflowed with the mere thought of what it would be like if Duran had a similar exhibit. We’ve already been lucky enough to have some impressive collections, such as Beautiful Colors: The Posters of Duran Duran from Andrew Golub (Durandy) and Denis O’Regan’s ‘Careless Memories’ book and exhibit. But could you even imagine an exhibit that would encompass the band’s history, videos, live performances, costumes (maybe there are some we’d rather forget), handwritten lyrics, Simon’s tiger baby necklace, or even one of John’s fedoras? (Side note: I think my favorite moment from the film was when the fan turned to the camera and proclaimed “Bowie’s DNA is in those costumes!” Duranies would swoon. Oh, now, get your mind out of the gutters … you know who you are!)
Something Bowie’s exhibit would have in common with Duran’s hypothetical exhibit would be the collaborations. The film focused a bit on Bowie’s artistic collaborations with the likes of Iggy Pop, Brian Eno, and Japanese fashion designer Kansai Yamamoto. Duran’s would have to include David Lynch, Mark Ronson, Nile Rodgers, Dolce & Gabbana, and more. Like Bowie, Duran has extended their artistic collaborations to more than just music.
The final piece of the exhibit was a Periodic Table of Bowie, created by Paul Robertson. Designed in the format of the periodic table of elements, this clever infographic depicts the influences on Bowie, as well as those who have been influenced by Bowie. Among those influenced by Bowie are Lady Gaga, Morrissey, and Alexander McQueen. I was shocked that Duran didn’t make the chart. Shocked. But hey, we know that if Duran had their own periodic table, we’d have to put Bowie as one of their influencers.
So who or what is David Bowie? The film and exhibit certainly provide you with many suggested ways to finish the “David Bowie Is” statement. Do I think David Bowie is Duran Duran? Nope. I think what matters is what Duran Duran is to you.
The David Bowie Is exhibit is at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago now through January 4, 2015. Click here for more information.
Read more about the documentary here.
Have any of you seen the exhibit in person? Anyone else see the film? We’d love to hear your experience!
PamG has been a Duranie since the early days of MTV. In addition to all-things Duran, she also enjoys music documentaries, pop culture trivia, and live concerts of any kind. Her Duran dream would be to journey across the pond and see the band play throughout Europe. After waiting over 25 years to see Duran Duran live, she saw her first show in 2011 and it changed her life.