David Bowie on film

BYOBABY 20th January – 11.00 AM /  20th January – 2.30 PM
Wednesday 27th January – 8.30 PM

Bowie as Thomas Jerome Newton

Bowie as Thomas Jerome Newton

This Saturday the Hyde Park Picture House had a sell-out for Labyrinth (1986, two more daytime screenings this coming Wednesday and an 8:30pm screening on Wednesday 27th). Presumably quite a few of the audience were film fans, even Jim Henson fans. However, one can be certain that the majority were fans of David Bowie. The deserved crucial accolades in recent days have focussed on Bowie’s musical career. However, he also had a notable presence on the big screen. His film music credits run to over 450 titles. But his acting credits also run to 40 titles.

I did not realise but he was an uncredited squaddie in The Virgin Soldiers (1969). But his first notable was screen appearance was as Thomas Jerome Newton in Nicholas Roeg’s unconventional sci-fi movie, The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976). This was a fascinating exercise in futurology, beautifully presented in the cinematography of Anthony B. Richmond and the design of Brian Eaton. But the film also made fine use of Bowie’s androgyny and his distinctive star persona.

In 1983 he starred alongside Catherine Deneuve [a coup in itself] in the unusual vampire film, The Hunger (1983): they were John and Miriam Blaylock. This became a cult movie and spawned a fairly long-running Television series.

The same year saw Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence, this time distinguished by being the work of Japanese director Nagisa Ôshima. Set in a World War II prisoner-of-war camp the film was far removed from the conventions of most war dramas. It was probably Bowie’s finest acting moment as the POW, Major Jack ‘Strafer’ Celliers.

Then we had Goldcrest’s Absolute Beginners (1986), adapted from the novel by Colin MacInnes. Bowie’s advertising entrepenur Vendice Partners was one of the darker aspects of the story. The film itself was critically mauled but, though uneven, it stands up remarkably well. The score is by Gil Evans, [think Miles Davis and ‘Sketches of Spain’] and is excellent. And the choreography by David Toguri is outstanding: a film that stood out in a genre uncommon in British cinema.

More recently Bowie played the cameo of Nikola Tesla in The Prestige (2006). This was a fascinating study in obsessions and a rare look at the world of magic and chicanery.

Any of the above films would be a happy addition to the cinema programme. And they are all worth seeing as movies as well as for the pleasure of seeing/hearing David Bowie.

The Music of Mali

As TIMBUKTU starts it’s run at the Picture House, projectionist and music aficionado Mike Shapowitz , gives us a brief overview of the music of Mali.

The music of Mali is as rich and varied as the country itself. Consisting of eight regions and a number of ethnic groups, local languages and cultures supersede colonial borders which preserves a distinct regionalism. Much of the cultural heritage can be traced back to the West African empires that controlled vast areas of the region for several hundred years in the early to mid 1000’s. Musical tastes also transcend some expected divisions both ethnic and political; songs of Tuareg rebellion alongside Bambara hip hop.

Many cultures in the region are traditionally attached to a birth caste system. The Griot caste was a repository for oral tradition and they were expected to be historians, storytellers, praise singers, poets and/or musicians. Griots would also use their vocal expertise for gossip, satire, or political comment. Most villages had their own Griot, who told tales of births, deaths, marriages, battles, hunts, affairs, and hundreds of other things. There are many great Griot families that trace their ancestry back for many generations. The Kouyaté line of Griots that exists to this day has its roots in the Mali Empire. Continue reading