‘Moonage Daydream’ misses its mark

“Moonage Daydream” is unlike any documentary I have ever seen. The director, producer and editor Brett Morgen crafted a love letter to David Bowie using creatively edited clips of the rock icon. Despite the uniqueness and visual polish, “Moonage Daydream” is a meandering mess of a documentary that fails to reach the heights that Morgen strived to hit.

This is a very unconventional documentary. This movie is made up of interviews, concert footage, music videos and various other pieces of media that David Bowie has appeared in. These clips are then edited with an artistic flair. An example of this is concert performances edited to be monochromatic, where everything is in different shades of the same vibrant color.  There are parts of this documentary where the footage is so edited that it looks like the stargate sequence in “2001: A Space Odyssey.” 

While the editing and manipulation of these videos from various stages of Bowie’s life are visually compelling, they do not do much beyond looking cool and otherworldly. This is definitely fitting for a documentary about a man who built his career by being as weird and otherworldly as he could, but this is the only thing the documentary does. 

“Moonage Daydream,” directed by Brett Morgen, follows David Bowie’s cinematic,
musical and creative transformation. (IMDB)

A highlight of “Moonage Daydream” is the music and performance footage. This is a no-brainer for a documentary about a rock star, but I’ll give credit where credit is due. Bowie is a master entertainer, and that is put on full display here. There is footage of live shows, studio recordings and music videos from all stages of Bowie’s life and career. A particularly impactful sequence was many different clips of Bowie performing the song “Hello Spaceboy.” The performances are energetic and the cutting between different concerts playing the same song create this weighty feeling that shows the starpower of Bowie.

While the audio and visual aspects of this documentary are truly beautiful and touching, everything else is far from that. 

The pacing of “Moonage Daydream” is puzzling. There are 40-minute chunks where you are absolutely hooked, but then all momentum is lost for the next thirty minutes. This is mainly due to how the sequences are set up. Audio interviews of Bowie saying interesting things are set over visuals that contribute nothing besides being visually strange. The stop and start nature of this pacing makes the viewing experience of “Moonage Daydream” feel disjointed and muddled. Despite this documentary only being a little bit over two hours long, it feels much longer than that. There are also many false endings, where the story reaches a satisfying point, fades to black and slow music starts to play. This is done at least three times in the last forty minutes of the movies and is extremely annoying. It makes you look forward to the end of the movie, only to be surprised that it is nowhere close to over.

As much as the visual editing of this movie is well deserving of praise, the content editing in terms of what was included is not nearly on the same level. If 45 minutes of this movie was cut out and the false endings were removed, this could easily rank among the best documentaries ever made. As an audiovisual experience, “Moonage Daydream” is superb. It plays out like a collection of music videos intercut with monologues from Bowie, however it does little beyond that. The documentary does not try to say anything beyond being a tribute to Bowie. He is an undeniable icon of rock music and pop culture, but everyone who goes to see this documentary already knows how cool he was and how impactful his music was to culture. There are no new ideas presented here, no new takes on Bowie. This is disappointing and sours the overall experience.

“Moonage Daydream” is a surface level experience. It is gorgeous to look at and wonderful to listen to. However, it is empty beyond that. This is by no means an awful documentary, but it ultimately fails to do or say anything new. If you are a fan of Bowie, this movie offers a greatest hits soundtrack set to trippy visuals with killer editing and colors. If you are not a fan of Bowie, I doubt this documentary will change your mind. 

I am giving “Moonage Daydream” two out of five stars.