Bowie: The Great Explorer

Tim Arnold
5 min readSep 25, 2022

Moonage Daydream’s ray gun fires a rush of optimism to the heart

Whilst there were no new biographical facts or information about his life that I hadn’t already greedily digested about Bowie over the years, Brett Morgen’s Moonage Daydream made me feel more optimism about life than I’ve come to expect from watching any film, ever before.

As is habit with films I wait to see with eager anticipation, I didn’t read any reviews or listen to any of the pre-release pundit-musings by experts in the media. I just went to see it without expectation, and like the songs of the man himself, the film changed me.

“Nothing is certain, even though the world is changing” — Luang Por Charoen Parnchand, Wat Thamkrabok, Thailand, 2004.

Moonage Daydream is to me, a film about philosophy. Through Bowie’s Nietzschean revaluation of the meaning of life, Buddhist metta-karmic balance and Discordian embrace of chaos and impermanence, the director sculpts a fascinating examination into the fragile, wide-eyed wonder of a human being, whose sole preoccupation is learning to dance with life and time itself, and the film is an artful invitation to watch Bowie become a master of that process.

There are many well-documented reasons for Bowie’s wide appeal, but the film’s narrative arc transcends Bowie the artist. It’s just so unequivocally human, and more relatable than any other documentary about him.

Of course, for many of us who work in the recording or performing arts, there are reams of reminders of how to improve, hone and expand the direction of our craft. It’s an inspiring manual about inspiration itself if you’ve never heard Bowie’s personal thoughts on creating.

But the biggest takeaway is the hyper-self-awareness evident in Bowie during all his voice-over passages of the film. Spoken word passages that are exquisitely underscored by the music, and expertly remixed by Tony Visconti who sensitively pulls down the fader on the singing when Bowie is speaking, and brings the vocals back up again to create a seamless hybrid of song and commentary. An absolute aural delight.

Bowie with Tony Visconti

Similarly to Peter Jackson’s Get Back, the absence of other people talking about the subject of the film, creates the intimacy that so many of us crave in spending uninterrupted time with cultural figures we love to connect with. I dearly hope this becomes the norm for all documentaries in future.

Both my partner Kate and myself had a little cry toward the end of the film.

But why?

My feeling is that in a world where living icons in our society are now regularly delivered to us in measured data-calculated and algorithmic ‘in-the-box’ precision, it’s apparent just how fortunate for us it was that a human being was able to navigate a career with total creative autonomy, and not lose curiosity about humanity.

It’s a gift for us all that an art adventurer did what he wanted to do in an age before sanitisation and homogenisation took a grip on popular culture. In that realisation, our loss of Bowie dwells deeply. The film reveals that he emerged from his adventure with humility and acceptance of his mortality, long before his passing.

Russel Harty: “Do you believe in God?”

David Bowie: “I believe in an energy form. I wouldn’t like to put a name to it”

It reminds me of the venerable Buddhist monks I used to live with in Thailand. Individuals who possess unlimited power to influence their followers, but choose not to yield that power through the acceptance that all they have done in their life to achieve wisdom and kindness, is in fact, a service to something greater that they will not meet in the short lives we all lead, or are led by.

Spell Casting Vs. Broadcasting

What resonated with me mostly was Bowie’s posit that “I never wanted to do what other people liked. I wanted to do what I liked, and make other people like that”, which recalls his famous quote (not spoken in the film), to “Never play to the gallery”.

It’s still his greatest parting message to me, given that we live in a time where scheduled, automated posts across social media are, in effect, doing nothing but playing to the gallery every single day of our lives. We’re all broadcasting today. But Bowie’s brand of broadcasting felt more like spell-casting. Because like any serious magician, there was a deep, long-form intention that this film displays. His exhibitionism was a micro-component of a much wider, deeper and personal life-work.

Never have I seen a depiction of a character, factual or fictional, that showcases a child’s passion to connect, whilst simultaneously brandishing the tools of a wise sage. What results is a seductive surge of creative energy and action, without the ambition of absolutes.

If the human race were wiped out tomorrow and Earth was visited by aliens, Moonage Daydream would be a beautiful document to give them a glimpse into how much human beings are able to fall in love with life itself. Like Columbus or Shackleton before him, Moonage Daydream successfully argues Bowie’s unique place in the pantheon of the great explorers.

I once asked the actor Pete Postlethwaite what he thought the most important thing about Shakespeare was. His reply encapsulates my feeling about David Bowie: “His love of Humanity. His love for us”.

Tim Arnold is a singer, songwriter, performer, film maker and lecturer at WaterBear College of Music. He is the last artist to collaborate with David Bowie mentor Lindsay Kemp.

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Tim Arnold

Tim Arnold is a Singer, songwriter, frontman, composer and film maker