David Bowie Is, film review: A strange and unsatisfactory documentary

The film is a cross between a conventional documentary and a guided tour of a gallery

This is the film of the exhibition – a documentary based around the hugely successful David Bowie show, organised by the Victoria and Albert Museum.

It plays like an Open University capsule.

The curators Victoria Broackes and Geoffrey Marsh take us through the show. They have recruited various interviewees, among them the writer Hanif Kureishi, who tells us that the post-war Britain in which Bowie grew up was “very, very boring”, plus the critic Paul Morley and the artist Jeremy Deller.

We follow Bowie as he moves from suburbia to Soho and from there to international stardom. The exhibition is stuffed with intriguing artefacts, everything from Bowie’s youthful drawings and costumes to the letter from September 1965, in which David Jones’s change of name to “Bowie” (after the “Bowie” knife) is announced. There is footage of him as a mime artist, recordings of interviews he gave over the years and an analysis of his movie career by the historian Christopher Frayling. The film itself, for all the richness of its content, is a strange and unsatisfactory hybrid – a cross between a conventional documentary and a guided tour of a gallery.

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