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Of all the artists that I have loved over the years, the one that has consistently impressed me is David Bowie. Called a 'chameleon' for many because of the various characters that he has portrayed, his range of music is impressive. My favourite Bowie era is the early seventies, and thankfully, this is exactly the period that this double DVD and book set cover.
Called a 'critical review', a number of people connected to Bowie and the music world are interviewed during the course of the DVDs. Two of those interviewed are from The Spiders from Mars, Bowie's one-time backing band - Mick 'Woody' Woodmansey and Trevor Bolder, which for me, was very exciting, because they had such close contact with Bowie in his early years. Mick Ronson, the other Spider, now dead, was also mentioned throughout. Other interviewees include Pip Williams, a record producer, Malcolm Dome, a music writer and broadcaster and John Mckenzie, a professional musician who has worked with Bowie in the past.
There are two DVDs with the set - one that covers the period from 1969 to 1972, and the other that covers 1972 to 1974. I believe both DVDs can be purchased separately, although apparently without the free book that the set comes with. Bowie made six albums during this period and it is those that the DVDs concentrate on: Space Oddity, The Man Who Sold the World, Hunky Dory, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, Aladdin Sane and Pin-Ups.
What is missing from the DVDs is any kind of interview with David Bowie himself, except for the odd flash of an early seventies interview that he gave. I was initially quite disappointed to not have his input; however, in hindsight, this is supposed to be a 'critical review', so it makes sense not to have an interview with Bowie himself. And some of the interviews are really quite critical - Pin-Ups, a cover version album that Bowie released, is more or less panned by all of those interviewed (and quite rightly so). It is worth noting that the review is totally independent of Bowie and his management and has not been approved or authorised by Bowie.
Despite this criticism, all the interviewers generally praise Bowie's work to the high heavens. Space Oddity and The Man Who Sold the World are largely overlooked, but as these are albums that are relatively little known, that is perhaps not surprising. A lot of time, however, is spent on Hunky Dory, which pleased me - it is certainly one of my favourite Bowie albums. Pin-Ups is also barely mentioned, except to be criticised, so the remainder of the interviews are about Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane, which again, are excellent albums.
The interviews tend to focus on the music itself - the guitar riffs, chord structures, Bowie's lyrics, his voice and deliverance. The songs that are covered do tend to be Bowie's singles, presumably because there is more footage of these; however, there is the occasional mention of less well known album tracks. The detail that the interviewees mention does make the DVDs a little inaccessible for newcomers to Bowie's music. If you don't know the songs, I can imagine it would be very boring, particularly as the music is shown via a series of clips only - none of the tracks are shown in full and we rarely hear more than a snatch of each song at a time. For newcomers to Bowie, there are probably far more basic introductions. Towards the end of the second DVD, Woodmansey and Bolder discuss their impressions of working with Bowie, but there is very little that could be construed as personal.
Probably my favourite part of the DVDs is the archive footage of Bowie. As you can imagine, the clothes are horrendous and it is amazing to think that anyone could have worn some of the costumes that he appears in. A little multi-coloured leotard particuarly stands out in my mind - it certainly leaves nothing to the imagination! The front of the DVD claims that some of the footage was previously unavailable on DVD - I don't know how true that is, but it certainly contained footage I hadn't seen before. It truly has to be seen to be believed. Some of the clips are not of great quality, but as they are nearly forty years old, it isn't really surprising.
The book that comes with the DVD set is adequate and reasonably interesting. It basically lists the tracks from all the albums that cover the period and gives a little bit of information about each of them. I can't say I really learned anything new, but it is good to have the information all in one place and I will probably refer to it in the future. The pictures in the book consist of the album covers and the odd still from the footage - nothing extraordinary, but again, nice to have.
I think that, for anyone who just wants to listen to Bowie's music without interruptions, there are almost certainly better DVDs out there. However, if you already know the music and are interested in finding out a little more about how it was all put together, this is a worthwhile DVD to have. The fact that it is independent makes it all the more interesting for me - although there really is minimal criticism overall, there still is enough to be thought-provoking. The only other minor criticism that I have is that the total playing time is only just over 2 hours - this means a lot of information is compacted and I can't help but feel the interviewees, especially the ex-Spiders, probably had a great deal more of interest to say.
There are no extras with the DVDs, except, of course, for the book.
It was a real pleasure to watch the DVDs and leaf through the book. For me, these were David Bowie's golden years, when many of the album tracks were just as strong as the singles. It is amazing to think of the quality work that he came up with in such a short period of time. If you are a Bowie fan and want to hear a bit more about the man and his music, then I think you will love this DVD set. If you are a newcomer to Bowie, this may not be for you. Recommended.
The DVD set is available from Amazon for £16.59. I bought my set from Poundland.
Running time: 124 minutes