Though Bowie and band performed with much gimmickry to entertain the masses, their musical talent is still more enjoyable than watching Bowie be stripped of clothing on stage. If their songs weren't so engaging, the outrageous fashion style probably wouldn't have been able to push the gender-bending boundaries that so many other bands would later fail to copy. Bowie has his own limits of showmanship that keep you focused on the music instead of his exacting bodily movements. He doesn't just prance around on stage or gyrate, but utilizes facial expressions and simple gestures to add a texture of personality to what he sings. It's surprising yet touching when, after singing the line "...in front of that door is," the entire audience jumps on "me," which gets treated with a genuinely friendly smile.
And true to the nature for which Pennebaker is so well regarded, the concert is shot and edited, with newly digitized sound in this reissue, to place the moviegoer in that auditorium. You want to cheer, hold up a lighter, and sing along... if it were socially acceptable in a movie theater. The musicians have an addictively contagious kinesis that is difficult to dissociate from, even though you're watching an event from 30 years ago.
Adding to the voyeuristic fascination are a handful of interesting preparation clips of Bowie getting ready in the dressing room, which give you a sense of someone who is easygoing (though this could have been the effects of notorious drug usage) but works hard. You can see it's important to Bowie that he performs well, though he never utters a word to the effect. His costumes, his make-up, each detail seems pre-planned for more than just shock value. Why he chooses these means is irrelevant, but that he cares for these specifics provokes an unexpected admiration for this skinny little guy who oozes sex appeal with little effort. Complementary to Bowie's own penchant for recognizing his cohorts, Ziggy also takes time to show off the other band members during their powerful strumming.
The difficulty of watching Ziggy lies more in technical aspects that are impossible to fix. As it was shot during a concert, with squished fans and available lighting, the camera can only pick up so much and often swerves or doesn't catch the image it searches for in the darkness. While this adds to the chaotic feeling of a live show, it can hurt the eyes to watch it for too long. Visual annoyances aside, Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars is a precious time capsule worth appreciating, whether you were around to appreciate the original or not.
Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5
Director: DA Pennebaker
Screenwriter: Tony Defries