April 7, 2005

Music DVD Review: Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars - The Movie

Over thirty years ago, David Bowie performed his final concert. Or at least what was advertised as his final concert. That show became the Ziggy Stardust movie. Last year a thirtieth anniversary edition of the film was released on DVD. Now I have finally gotten a chance to see this film for the first time, and the result is a mixed bag.

I made the mistake of watching this shortly after watching the A Reality Tour disk, which is a superior production, but then it was also made 30 years after this one. I think the biggest problem here is that time has not been kind to the film materials. Frankly, the overall image quality is not all that good, the lighting and angles are, at times, very striking, but their is a lot of grain, and general fuzziness to it. The audio, on the other hand, sounds very good, and does the music justice. And what is most important here is the music, right?

This concert film presents me with a vastly different David Bowie than what I am used to. He is more a caricature, or a character, as opposed to the artists just being himself, that I see today. It is interesting watching him strut around in some bizarre outfits singing and posturing. Backed by a tight band led by the guitar sounds emanating from the general vicinity of Mick Ronson. The music is very good, although much more raw than more recent performances. This is exemplified by Ronson's performance, which is strong, loose and tight all at the same time.

As a whole, this show acts as a time capsule, capturing the essence of what David Bowie was about in the early/mid seventies. It stands frozen in time, a testament to what Bowie has created over the years.

The images portrayed are striking, there is no big production, not much in the way of lights, no pyro, no stage setup, just the band. Lights acting more as spotlights, bathing everything outside it's scope in darkness. Bowie, microphone in hand silhouetted against the band. The crowd shouting his name, crying in ecstasy, enthralled by the music. While it may not be the best Bowie show, it is definitely an interesting one.

Video. Like I mentioned, it shows the effects of time, but the cinematography still comes through. It is presented in a 1.33:1 aspect ratio, which I believe is the original.

Audio. Presented in two flavors, PCM 2.0 stereo and Dolby Digital 5.1. I listened using the PCM option and it sounds very good, bringing forth a good mix of the show.

Extras. There is one extra on the disk, but it is a good one. We get a commentary track with DA Pennebaker, the director, and also the music producer. They are lively throughout giving insight as to how the project came about, the troubles in making it, and his reactions to first meeting Bowie, among other things. Definitely worth listening to.

Bottomline. This is a must have for any serious Bowie fan, but for those looking to see Bowie live, would better be served by starting with the A Reality Tour disk, then moving back to this gem.


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