Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars review – grainy rock-doc records Bowie's brightest moment

DA Pennebaker’s intimate record of one of rock history’s defining moments – David Bowie’s final concert performance as Ziggy Stardust

David Bowie’s retiring of his alter ego Ziggy Stardust at the Hammersmith Apollo in 1973 was one of those lightbulb moments, allowing Bowie to segue seamlessly into his Thin White Duke era, and expanding the horizons of what pop stars could and couldn’t do. The documentarian DA Pennebaker was present with a crew to capture the event for posterity, either through dumb luck or premeditation (Pennebaker swears it is the former), and the result is this concert film, rereleased into cinemas this week for a single-night show.

Unlike Pennebaker’s seminal 1976 Dylan film Don’t Look Back, whose freewheeling behind-the-scenes footage revolutionised music doc filmmaking, this focuses almost exclusively on the performance, and it’s sometimes to the film’s detriment: poor stage lighting means that proceedings are caked in an indistinct fuzz. Still, Pennebaker’s workaround – tightly focusing on Bowie at the expense of wider stage shots – provides an intimate look at a performer in full flight, and the moment where Bowie announces that this is “the last show that we’ll ever do”, to the screams and groans of the audience (most of whom assumed it was he, not Ziggy, who was retiring) remains utterly bracing.


Gwilym Mumford

The GuardianTramp

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