Director: Gabriel Range
Salon Pictures / Wilding Pictures / IFC Films
Stardust is a little movie. That could have been fine. There are some wonderful small pictures. But Stardust is also a terrible movie. Plagued by many things – not just a lack of Bowie’s music, and distancing from the estate. For a start, real life musician and actor Johnny Flynn is an atrocious casting choice – lacking anything resembling charisma, looking nothing like our hero at all really and maybe worst of all voicing him as he might a Spitting Image Mick Jagger puppet.
Also, when I watch a film and Marc Maron is the best actor in it I’m worried. Maron’s been getting some props for his acting in recent years and this has baffled me. I never miss an episode of his podcast but his acting range is almost as narrow as his ability to handle any criticism at all. Here however he almost shines as publicist Ron Oberman, the only believer in Bowie during the disastrous pre-fame tour of America in the early 1970s. Maron is very nearly excellent here – but that’s ultimately because the film is so very bad.
But how did they get this so wrong? Buddy movies that take place almost entirely inside a car as the road-trip happens for necessity, as almost thin plot-device, can work. Look at The End Of The Tour. If you scrunch up your eyes and nose a little, that is the film Stardust most closely resembles, nearly apes; should want to get close to.
What Stardust is trying to do is get audiences close to the out-of-place frustration Bowie felt as someone so close to cracking the big time but so weirdly out on his own and neither a mod nor a rocker, one foot in each camp and the big foot he wanted in actual ‘camp’ was being denied by conservative radio and uptight hit-single chasing suits. The leap we are supposed to follow is that after failing sideways on a promotional tour Bowie decided that you could act authenticity – made up a glam-rocking spaceman called Ziggy Stardust and won over the world.
This did actually happen, basically. But the leap is never correctly explained – and some dubious subtext about Bowie’s brother’s schizophrenia is poorly handled; humanity removed.
Bowie’s motivations are cruelly misunderstood. He was an artist. An actor. He was able to be both. He was also calculating and clinical. He worked the angles, knew them, saw them, understood them. He had been very nearly chewed up and spat out by 1971, yes, but his reinvention was a pivot. One of several more to come.
So, Stardust limps along, and feels like one of the most un-rock’n’roll movies about one of the most rock’n’roll heroes – and right as he’s about to be as rock’n’roll as he ever was too.
The right music would have helped. Absolutely. But it could not save this. Because it is thin-sketch stuff. The sort of cursed film that had several options to stop, to fold, to shake hands and walk away but some fucking dingbat writer/director wanted to push on anyway.
Marc Maron will shout out from his podcasting garage that the reviewers can go fuck themselves. And they can. Absolutely. That’s one thing we can always do. And probably should. But a good self-fucking from any hack yelling towards the void does not stop this film from being a clownish shit-show. And its worst crime is taking a story so thrilling and pulling all life from it.
This is end of the tube of toothpaste filmmaking.
And, look, it’s not the first time a “fictional” re-telling of true events surrounding Bowie got it wrong. And it probably won’t be the last. But where Velvet Goldmine missed the point of Bowie enormously at least it went big, loud and camp for some shits and/or giggles – Stardust merely curls up, foetal, and wants us to like it by virtue of the fact that this is, on some level, a film about a legend.
But this, sadly, is Bowie unplugged.
A god-awful small affair.
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