David Bowie Is: A Retrospective Oddity

Documentary Screens at Arlington Theatre on September 23

<b>SOUND AND VISION:</b> David Bowie Is chronicles the career-spanning collection of memorabilia on display at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago.

David Bowie Is, an international exhibit celebrating the artist, will make its way to the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago on September 23. If you don’t want to spend hundreds of dollars on a plane ticket, though, you can view the exhibit’s documentary of the same name at the Arlington Theatre this Tuesday, September 23.

The exhibit first opened in 2013 at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A), featuring over 300 artifacts from the David Bowie archives, including costumes, original sketches, handwritten lyrics, and even a mime performance by the icon. The V&A was given full and unprecedented access to the Bowie archive in order to pioneer the first international retrospective of the musician’s outlandish career. The display earned stellar reviews and was visited by over 300,000 spectators during its London run.

This feature, directed by BAFTA Award winner Hamish Hamilton, celebrates the cultural and artistic phenomenon inspired by Bowie throughout his musical career. Filmed on the closing night of the V&A installation, the documentary alternates between talks and clips from a walk-through of the exhibit.

The documentary pulls commentary from big names, such as Jarvis Cocker, frontman of the band Pulp, and fashion designer Kansai Yamamoto, as well as exhibition curators Geoffrey Marsh and Victoria Broackes. The discussions tended to drag on a bit, but the interest clearly manifested in Bowie’s legacy, and the quirks of individual speakers were touching to watch — especially Victoria Broackes’s earrings with David Bowie’s face on them.

Overall, the film was as bizarre and imaginative as the man himself. The opening sequence follows a mime in the South Kensington Underground station. The scene is shot in all black-and-white, save for a few choice objects highlighted in orange. The film switches to color when we get to the museum. If you look closely at the scene just after, though, about two minutes into the film, you’ll notice that even the sky behind England’s lazy clouds has changed from blue to a strange shade of sherbet orange. From mime pieces to songwriting computer programs, there are no shortages of oddities throughout. Bowie would be proud.

The artifacts displayed in the film include original costume sketches and album concept art designed long before Bowie’s musical career had taken off. We hear how Bowie was shaped by other artists of the time and how influences like Lindsay Kemp inspired him to use characterization in his performance — an idea he carried throughout albums like Dog Days and Ziggy Stardust. As viewers walk through the halls of each exhibit, we see numerous drawings of the dystopian “Hunger City” from the Diamond Dogs days. It’s inspiring to see how Bowie maintained control of the conceptual art throughout his work — an idea that is mirrored in the documentary itself.

David Bowie Is will be playing in 100 theaters across the U.S. on September 23, including the Arlington Theatre (1317 State St.). For tickets and info, call (805) 963-4408 or visit thearlingtontheatre.com.

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