Bowie’s search for identity: the hippy look for the Hunky Dory sleeve 1971 and red-haired alien for Space Oddity 1972. (Photos by Brian Ward and Mick Rock)
◼ WHAT AN EYE-OPENER! Nine failed bands in eleven years of struggle before David Bowie emerged as a star. “He was no Marcel Marceau,” said his mentor and lover Lindsay Kemp of David’s attempts at mime. Saturday’s TV doc Bowie Finding Fame directed by Francis Whately was chock-full of jaw-droppingly frank evaluations by all his pals and workmates from his earliest days in music. Among the kindest was his girlfriend in 1968 Hermione Farthingale who said: “He was actually 21 and looked about eight. . . He wasn’t lost, but he wasn’t found either”. For 90 minutes Bowie’s own voiceover was disarmingly full of insight too and this episode proved probably the most moving of the three.
And today comes a thorough and informative appreciation of this the latest landmark documentary about Bowie’s early life in a review published by Andy Polaris, Eighties singer with Animal Nightlife, at his website APolarisView. As a fan utterly in thrall at a formative age to Bowie’s charisma, Andy brings personal insights to the final doc in Whately’s consummate trilogy for the BBC, following on from David Bowie: Five Years (2013) and The Last Five Years (2017), both being repeated live tonight from 11.15pm (despite the confusion in newspaper listings guides), and subsequently viewable on iPlayer.
Andy also adds further essential points of reference to the Bowie story omitted from the new biopic, possibly because, as its series consultant and Bowie chronicler Kevin Cann has explained this week, the production team ultimately had to exclude masses because of time limitations: “Sadly there are a few fabulous interviews we made that we couldn’t fit in – all important in their own way. . . At one point we had close on a three-hour edit. We were basically overwhelmed with options at times – and that’s exactly why future generations, I’m sure, will never be bored of this man’s immense talent. He will never cease to impress.” Another gem they discovered was the complete Russell Harty TV interview from 1973: “. . . the whole Bowie section, interview and song performances. Even though ITV erased their original master a year or two after original broadcast, the recording we have still belongs to them, so its immediate future is yet to be decided.”
➢ Meanwhile here’s an excerpt from Andy’s blog
APolarisView where he reviews Saturday’s superb doc,
Finding Fame, which starts in the mid-Sixties:
“ I came away admiring Bowie more as an artist due to his single-minded pursuit to achieve his goal and establish a career in the arts. Eleven years (which brought massive cultural changes generally) and nine different bands failed to launch his career. With such limited rewards most people would have fallen at the second or third hurdle and contemplated a different choice of career. A lot of the bands I had heard of, but the film surprised me by exhuming the music of Riot Squad (a name sounding more like a later oi/skinhead band) where he spent eight weeks as their singer in 1967.
“ Bowie learned quickly to jettison anyone or thing that stood in the way of his mission and made sure that he was front and centre of the action. Early associates talk of how he was the driving force behind stage performances, style and presentation and how to stand out from the crowd.
“ Whately’s biopic marks the first time I can remember hearing about the inspiration for Letter to Hermione (a beautiful song on Space Oddity) in a filmed interview where his former girlfriend talks candidly about their love affair and the aftermath of their break-up. In a rare moment of personal confession it reveals the crushing effect it had on David at the time and he wanted her to forever realise the hurt. . .” / Continued at APolarisView
➢ Bonus clips at the BBC’s programme website:
Of the surplus footage researched for Finding Fame, Kevin Cann reports that My Death survives in full, as does the whole interview. As also does probably 90% of the 1970 Glastonbury set. “Just in case you haven’t seen them, here are some of the brief edits that came out along the way. There are many more and I hope, over time, more is made available.”
WHAT THE TV CRITICS SAID OF FINDING FAME
➢ “Whately arguably does get closer to who the flesh and blood David Jones really was than anyone has previously, largely thanks to securing interviews with an elusive cousin and a just as elusive first love” – The Arts Desk
➢ “Still think of Bowie as the last word in cool? You’ve obviously forgotten his novelty single about gnomes, his dire mime days… and his cover of Chim Chim Cher-ee” – Guardian TV review
➢ “The BBC’s ‘talent selection group’ had dismissed Bowie as ‘devoid of personality’ (ah, the irony). Yet Bowie doubled down and worked harder” – The Times review
➢ “One of the most miraculous things about Bowie is that he didn’t wind up as a drama teacher in Bromley” – Sunday Times Culture
➢ “Fascinating insight into the young singer’s quest for fame and his evolutionary struggle to burst out of suburbia” – The Telegraph review
➢ View David Bowie: Five Years (2013) at the iPlayer
➢ View David Bowie: The Last Five Years (2017) at the iPlayer