On July 3, 1973, David Bowie performed as Ziggy Stardust with the Spiders From Mars band for the last time at the Hammersmith Odeon, a vast old London movie palace. D.A. Pennebaker, the already renowned documentarian and cinema verite pioneer, especially celebrated for his 1966 "Don't Look Back" with Bob Dylan, was drifting on a raft along the Mississippi River when he was hastily summoned to London to film the concert.
Unlike "Don't Look Back," which is legendary for capturing a prickly warts-and-all Dylan off stage, "Ziggy Stardust" is strictly a concert film punctuated with glimpses of the pale and thin Bowie exchanging one outre costume for another. (During one such break, Ringo Starr can be glimpsed in Bowie's dressing room.)
But "Ziggy Stardust" is an excellent example of its genre, with Pennebaker capturing the excitement of what was a very special, emotion-charged occasion, with Bowie and the Spiders winding up an acclaimed world tour that stretched from the U.S. to Japan and back to their home country. Pennebaker strategically placed his fleet of cameramen to enable him to get a variety of highly mobile footage that he assembled in a dynamic but never busy or distracting fashion that reflects the swift pace and high energy of the show.
The film's restoration and 5:1 remix by Tony Visconti was undertaken to mark the 30th anniversary of the release of "The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars," cited in a Rolling Stone poll as one of the greatest albums in rock history. Cowboy Pictures made available its restored and remixed "Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars" film for presentation at the John Anson Ford Theater as part of the recent Los Angeles Film Festival, and now it returns for a regular run.
Fronted by Bowie in his high-androgyny, pioneering glam-rock phase, the show is tight and crisp, with everyone giving his all to a richly varied array of songs, including some of Bowie's greatest hits: "Changes," "All the Young Dudes," "Oh! You Pretty Things," "Suffragette City," "Rock 'n' Roll Suicide" and "Ziggy Stardust." For good measure, Bowie includes a fast-tempo version of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards' "Let's Spend the Night Together" and a searing take on Lou Reed's "White Light/White Heat."
The concert opens with Beethoven's Ninth Symphony (arranged and performed by Wendy Carlos), and Edward Elgar's familiar "Pomp and Circumstance" serves as exit music. The Spiders From Mars are sensational in their own right, and much play is given to virtuoso guitarist Mick Ronson.
It is impossible to watch Bowie's Ziggy without realizing what a clear inspiration he was for "Hedwig and the Angry Inch." Ziggy's costumes are a bold, inspired cross between Flash Gordon and the Cockettes, and are tight, colorful and show a lot of skin. Accessories range from a crystal earring to a feather boa to fabric bracelets thick as doughnuts--and of course an array of thick-soled boots.
Bowie sported a red mullet haircut and white geisha make-up highlighted by rouged cheeks and dark, mascara-encircled eyes. Bowie is completely at ease in this gender-bending look, and his audience of largely teenage girls listens to him with rapt, ecstatic attention. Yet if Bowie were to sing these rock numbers and plaintive ballads today, dressed as simply as Bruce Springsteen, they surely would seem every bit as potent.
There is a certain irony in listening to Bowie as Ziggy singing of mortality as well as love. Fragile-looking Ziggy might not have seemed long for this world, but many incarnations later, Bowie keeps on going, exploring new paths.
MPAA rating: PG. Times guidelines: mature themes.
'The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars'
A Cowboy Pictures release of a Pennebaker-Hegedus Films and RZO Music Film production. Director D.A. Pennebaker. Executive producer Tony Defries. Cinematographers Jim Desmond, Mike David, Nick Doob, Randy Franken and D.A. Pennebaker. Editor Lorry Whitehead. Costumes Freddie Burretti and Kansai. Hair and wardrobe Suzy Fussey. Concert sound Ground Control. Restoration credits: Produced by Frazer Pennebaker/Pennebaker Hegedus Films Inc. Executive producer Henry Wrenn-Meleck. Post-production supervisor Rebecca Marshall. 5:1 surround music mix Tony Visconti, assisted by Rich Tozzoli,/Gizmo Enterprises. Stereo mix Visconti. Sound editor Paul Furedi. Rerecordist Dominick Tavella/Sound One Studios. Lab Du Art. Running time: 1 hour, 31 minutes.
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