Director: Gabriel Range
Runtime: 109 minutes
Cast: Johnny Flynn, Marc Maron and Jena Malone
Synopsis: Singer David Bowie reinvents himself as Ziggy Stardust while touring America in 1971 to promote his new album “The Man Who Sold the World.”
Stardust comes to us from director and co-writer, Gabriel Range [Death of a President (2006), I Am Slave (2010), The Great Dome Robbery (2002)]. It opens with a disclaimer: “What follows is mostly fiction” – and the release coincides with both the fifth anniversary of Bowie’s death and the 50th anniversary of his first trip to America.
The film is a mix of genres, with ‘origins of a star’ meeting ‘comedy road trip’, touching on the early days of David Jones before Bowie – one of the greatest icons in music history and a master of reinvention. The film asks: “Who was the young man behind the many faces?” In 1971, a 24 years-old David Bowie (Johnny Flynn) embarks on his first road trip to America with Mercury Records publicist Ron Oberman (Marc Maron), only to be met by a world not yet ready for him.
Stardust offers a glimpse behind the curtain of the moments that inspired the creation of Bowie’s first and most memorable alter ego, Ziggy Stardust, capturing the turning point that cemented his career as one of the world’s greatest cultural icons.
Talented and charismatic actor and musician, Johnny Flynn [Emma (2020), Beast (2017), Clouds of the Sils Maria (2014) Crusade in Jeans (2006)] is mesmerising as an early model ‘70s Bowie, emulating his delicate mannerisms with accurate fashions and very impressive singing. But – rather bizarrely – Stardust doesn’t feature any of Bowie’s celebrated music, due to the film having been created without official permission from Bowie’s family and thus not licensed to include any of his songs.
Flynn recently said of Stardust: “It’s this dark little film about this very dark moment in his life while he’s still putting things together.”
Bowie arrives at Washington DC’s Dulles airport without the proper visa and is insulted by an immigration official calling him a “fag”. He is met by Mercury Records publicity man Ron Oberman (comedian Marc Maron) who has got a lift to the airport from his mum and dad, and insists on taking a bemused Bowie back for a home-cooked family meal.
Soon the film becomes a kind of odd-couple road trip, as Oberman and Bowie head across the country in Ron’s station wagon, with Bowie playing disastrous, low-key gigs and Ron becoming increasingly embarrassed by the poor turnout.
Back in London, Jena Malone [Donnie Darko (2001), The Hunger Games 1+2 (2013, 2015), The Neon Demon (2016)] plays a heavily pregnant Angie Bowie.
This 1971 publicity tour of the United States would ultimately inspire the creation of his alien rockstar alter ego Ziggy Stardust, with some biographical details and themes and ideas in his lyrics used to create the myth of Ziggy, who is also based on Bowie’s relationship with his schizophrenic half-brother Terry and fuelled by what this film sees as Bowie’s dark imaginary thoughts about his own mental health.
Stardust is a thoughtful, semi fictional look at when a Jones became a Bowie, and then a Ziggy, with a strong, convincing performance from Johnny Flynn.
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Images courtesy of Vertigo