Ziggy Stardust: The Global Premiere
Jul 4, 2023
David Bowie, Mick Ronson, Trevor Bolder, Mick Woodmansey
Just occasionally the cinema offers something different from the usual diet of theatrical releases. Our local multiplex can also play host to a one night only world exclusive. An otherwise routine Monday evening was enlivened by the global premiere of Ziggy Stardust, a digitally restored film of David Bowie's final outing as his legendary alter ego.
There are few superlatives that do proper justice to his life and career. He was the original punk rocker who refused to conform and became the pioneer of re-invention. Bowie was the consummate artist who crafted songs of rare beauty and intelligence. To call him a cultural icon of the 20th Century is no understatement; and this amazing performance is a reminder of what’s missing from the desolate landscape we now call pop music. Ziggy Stardust was Bowie's stage persona throughout 1972 and 1973, spawning two albums and a string of live concerts with backing band the Spiders from Mars.
The evening began with a Q&A session broadcast live from the Hammersmith Odeon. It was the perfect venue as 50 years ago on this night (3 July) Bowie played his final gig as Ziggy at the Odeon. The panel was chaired by journalist Phil Alexander as they explored the genius that was David Bowie. Whilst Suggs from Madness made some entertaining contributions, it was the people who actually worked with Bowie that offered most insight. For example Ken Scott who co-produced four albums for Bowie and pianist Mike Garson, one of the few survivors who appeared on stage in 1973. The conversation wrapped promptly at 7:50pm and the lights dimmed before an expectant audience.
The realisation dawned that I was one of many watching live by satellite across the world. Bowie owns every inch of the stage with poise and a sureness of touch. The band is tight and well drilled; the brilliant Mick Ronson on guitar is complemented by Trevor Bolder on bass and Mick Woodmansey on drums.
The songs flow with an almost seamless transition. The tale of an androgynous alien rock star is told in the title song and sets the tone for a truly eclectic journey. ‘All the young dudes’ segued into ‘Oh! you pretty things’ and was followed by ‘Changes’ and ‘Space oddity’. Bowie was a fine exponent of other artists’ songs and delivered a raucous cover of the Rolling Stones’ ‘Let’s spend the night together’.
There were more costume changes than a Diana Ross concert, but this allowed for brief moments of contemplation during the storm of a live performance. An added bonus is the inclusion of material featuring Jeff Beck who backed Bowie on ‘Jean Genie’. The breadth of Bowie’s repertoire was impressive even then and takes no account of the classics that followed the Ziggy phase.
There's nothing striking about D.A. Pennebaker's film in purely cinematic terms. The jerky hand held cameras often lose focus, and poor lighting at the Odeon regularly plunges the film into darkness. But the rough edges oddly enhance the subject matter. The sweaty and claustrophobic atmosphere of a memorable night is perfectly captured. David Bowie's overpowering charisma and stage presence is obvious. The sound quality is astonishing and benefits from 5.1 surround sound. Frankly, the grainy visuals let the sound down but this remains one of the greatest rock concerts ever committed to film.