The year is 1971 and David Bowie (Johnny Flynn) is about to embark on his first US tour. Except he only has a tourist visa and so he’s not supposed to perform – convenient, given that the film-makers were unable to secure the rights to any of Bowie’s original music.
Its omission is noticeably awkward, with Flynn doing inert versions of tracks Bowie covered, such as Jacques Brel’s My Death, as a clumsy workaround. The narrative centres around a supposedly formative road trip Bowie took with his American publicist Ron Oberman (Marc Maron), suggesting that encounters with Andy Warhol and the Velvet Underground helped give birth to Bowie’s alter ego Ziggy Stardust.
Troublingly, flashbacks that look at Bowie’s relationship with his half-brother Terry Burns (Derek Moran) imply that the singer’s family history of psychosis also played a significant part in the creation of his onstage persona. A title card indicates that the film is fictionalised and so perhaps shouldn’t be scrutinised for fidelity. Still, the whole thing feels strangely pedestrian, unable to capture or channel Bowie’s maverick spirit.
Available on multiple VOD platforms