Journey among the universe of David Bowie’s amazing scenography
David Bowie was one of a kind. The psychedelic music, the crazy outfits, the choir-educated voice, the unbelievable alternative personas, the curious paintings and the mind blowing scenography of his videos, all of these are testament to the trully unique genius that was David Bowie. It is hard to comprehend in words how many out-of-this-world moments Bowie gave us, but as an architect I felt that I could at least propose a journey among my favourite videos from this amazing artist:
Space Oddity is the first song to feature Major Tom, Bowie’s fictional astronaut and is heavily inspired by 2001: A Space Odyssey, also the introduction of the song being similar to the bass tone in Also Sprach Zarathustra, a song used in the movie.
The feel of outer space is mostly brought to life not be „universe” images, but by the seamingly lack of gravity and confusing images. Sometimes we can see Bowie’s astronaut through a circled lens, which whoever does not diform the image as a real lense would.
Ashes to Ashes
The most expensive video ever made until 1980, in Ashes to Ashes Bowie reprises the story of Major Tom, which he previously mentioned in Space Oddity. Also, it marks the debut of David’s Scary Monster phase. The video changes planes, showing the artist holding a video of himself, switching from ultra-saturated scenes to black and white images.
Another scene features Bowie and guest stars such as Steve Strange, Darla Jane Gilroy and other member of the Blitz scene, walking in front of a bulldozer and it may appear that they are bowing , when in reality they pulled their clothes so the machine won’t catch them – the scenes were not altered, since Bowie liked the effect created.
My favourite part of the video is where Bowie wears a space suit but appears to be in a mental institution, suggesting that being in another world can simply be a state of mind. The video ends with David walking alongside an elderly woman, as he attempts to offer his character salvation.
The Heart’s Filthy Lesson
This twisted video revolves around a character that is following a serial killer guilty of „art crime”, combining seeaming rituals and a murder in the style of the Se7en movie by David Fincher, although the video is directed by Samuel Bayer. The characters vary from dancers, still-life people, victims, murderers or watchers, some wearing masks, some showing their true face.
Bowie is the only one to truly be connected with all the other characters, playing both victim and agressor. As always, his gestures are extremely suggestive and he is a master of disimulation.
The video advocates for love and appreciation of art and most of all for Bowie’s obsession with breaking social norms and being accepted in any manner.
New Killer Star
Presenting typical Bowie-esque themes, this video is unique through its presentation – the entire movie is shot as a lenticular image, appearing to be a series of GIFs, which in 2003 was a way of presenting images way before the time. It may one of David’s more political pieces, since it focuses on New York post 9/11.
Ok, it’s not an official video that I picked. But you cannot talk about Bowie and not mention the entire Ziggy Stardust – it was so crazy, so unconventional for the time that I could write an entire book on the subject and it wouldn’t be enough.
Ziggy Stardust, the alter ego of Bowie, is a rockstar who acts as a messenger for aliens. Is that weird? Maybe, but there’s more. The cvasi-alien asexual rocker was a somewhat political activist, discussing about sexual exploration and drug use. This Bowie period had the craziest outfits and hairstyle, and is iconic for ages to come.
Love Is Lost (Hello Steve Reich Mix By James Murphy for the DFA)
A terryfying video, focusing on the human mind and the captures it surrounds us with, such as schyzophrenia, paranoia or fear of clowns. Bowie’s own face is deformed, video mapped on a faceless figure, while the video confusingly starts with a phone-recorded image of David washing his hands in the sink.
The morbid images are altered with the images of the artist washing his hands, creating a confusing mix of a personal video and a horror story, deepening the overall theme of the unsetled mind, recurring throughout Bowie’s career.
Blackstar & Lazarus
David Bowie’s last 2 videos cannot be separated, not at this point – appart from the recurring image of himself, with his face covered and with nails on his eyes, the videos seem to continue each other – one is life, the other one is death.
Blackstar is the quintessence of everything Bowie – astronauts, the universe, alternative worlds, human sacrifice, gender and racial diversity and bending, mental diseases, religious mania, the limits of the human body and psychedelic transcendence. It is created to promote his last album and it hauntingly sticks with you.
Lazarus presents Bowie in 2 states – one shows him on his deathbed, vulnerable and unhappy, unable to save himself. The other one shows him standing, moving, at first happy and slowly becoming as unfortunate as the man on the bed, screaming and trying to save himself, only for the end to find him choosing to enter the cabinet which he escaped, shaking and scarred, as any other human is before death, being perhaps to most touching legacy he could have left – he was extraordinary, but he was one of us.