‘…a small, intelligent drama that riffs creatively on the legend of David Bowie…’

Both early stills and trailers left me with nothing but apathy towards Gabriel Range’s biographical film about the late, great David Bowie; we don’t need another tribute to the man who wrote Heroes, surely? We’re awash with reverent juke-box musicals anyway, and the Thin White Duke was never down with the idea in the first place. Indeed, Velvet Goldmine is one of the best rock biopics precisely because Bowie didn’t want to be involved. Estate-authorised, sanitised films are such a bore, and unauthorised biogs like Todd Haynes’ version, which opens with Oscar Wilde being kidnapped by aliens, are preferable to the messianic love-ins that many would like to make. This one wisely establishes itself as ‘fiction’ from the opening credits; there’s surely plenty of room for alternative takes on Bowie’s multi-faceted life.

So don’t expect to hear a note of David Bowie’s music here, just period covers; if Bowie is evoked, it’s a tribute to the writing, action and direction. Stardust has met with plenty of unfavourable reviews, presumably because it’s not the all-singing, all-dancing venture many would like to see. In fact, this isn’t a decade-spanning epic; the focus is exclusively in 1971, when Bowie (Johnny Flynn) was on tour in America and wrestling with publicist Ron Oberman (Marc Maron) to create a commercial image that worked for both Bowie and the world. So this is more of a road movie, or an Elvis and Nixon-style indie drama, which seeks to nail down a transformative moment in Bowie’s career rather than launch a sing-a-long DVD. Imitating Bowie is a difficult thing, given the inimitable nature of the performer, but Flynn does a great job; while many fans may not be interested in Bowie’s appreciation for Anthony Newley, that’s the kind of detail that’s examined here, as well as family issues and relationship problems. This is Bowie as an outsider, as a loser, wandering around in Y-fronts and alienating those around him; the confident performer we know is still just around the corner.

Critics might carp, but Stardust makes good on its promise; to depict a pivotal moment, and place a 2020 emphasis on Bowie’s willingness to rock the boat. A early scene of US customs ‘soft processing’ captures the negative atmosphere to transgender issues circa 1971. Range’s film will likely be castigated for what it is not (a Walk the Line, Ray, Bohemian Rhapsody-style greatest hits package) while gaining faint praise for what it is; a small, intelligent drama that riffs creatively on the legend of David Bowie. Well acted by Flynn, it’s not as giddy or poetic as Velvet Goldmine, but still of genuine interest to anyone taken with the great man. Like A Star is Born, Stardust doubles down on issues of authenticity; ‘I don’t want to be mad,’ Bowie confesses late in the film, ‘I’ve got other plans…’ and that sense of against-the-grain transformation makes Stardust well worth a look.

Thanks to Vertigo for advanced access to this film. Stardust can be seen in the UK via streaming services from Jan 15th 2021.


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  1. A refreshing review. I had only heard bad stuff about this mainly because it didn’t fit the jukebox jazzup we have come to expect from music biopics these days. Will check it out.

    • This is more like Gus van Sant’s Kurt Cobain movie; these things don’t have to be all singing hero worship…

  2. Presumably this is an American film with no sense of history. It’s a shame that within only a few days of his death, Michael Apted has one of his titles stolen. ‘Stardust’ will always remain for me a UK pop music drama starring David Essex in 1974, the sequel to ‘That’ll Be the Day’ (UK 1973). Nothing against Bowie btw.

    • I’m really keen to do a piece on Apted’s Up sequence, which I feel is the highlight of a glittering career. It’s amused me that for some others, Stardust means a 2007 fantasy film. In this case, it’s arguably an origins story for Ziggy Stardust, but I think a more original title might have helped in this instance. Quite like both That’ll be The Day and Stardust, Essex was better than you might expect!

  3. Maron talks to Flynn on his poddy about this movie, and music in general. A great chat to prep for or maybe follow up this movie. I’m looking forward to it.

    • I’m glad to hear this; not for the first time, I’m out of line with the old-time newspaper critics, but I found this a refreshing and defiantly fictional take on the Bowie mythology….

  4. I thought I was about to read your take on the 2007 Stardust with Claire Danes, one of my absolute favorite films. But, alas. I actually don’t know much about David Bowie or his music (blasphemy in some circles, I’m sure) which may be a reason to watch this….but with everything already in my queue, I think I’ll skip this one.

    • Hmm…I’m going to be a party-pooper on Stardust 2007, never liked it. Any reason I should give it another shot?

      • If you didn’t like it, then probably not. It’s a film I love with my heart, not my head. Claire Danes is great, and it’s just a nice little fantasy. It sticks out in my head because I think it might be the only film in the world that I like better than the book.

        • It seems to have a lot of fans, but always seemed a bit wushu washy to me. Not a fan of Jane Goldman…

  5. This marks the start of disclosure about the time needed to actually watch this movie which far exceeds anyone’s first expectation listed on the total time on IMDBs listing which immediately adds at least 15-20 seconds depending if you are running an ad blocker or not.

    As far as Bowie himself, a compressor connisour ( yep, THATs misspelled ) of space in relation to music. BOOM. 🤯

    Clean up on isles 3. Now, where’s my damn coffee.

    • This movie starts with Bowie dreaming himself into 2001, a space odd-essay/ oddity pun that fits the profile…

      • Yep, Bowie loves it, the space and fantasy and all. I forget the technical term for it, but he actually has two different colored eyes . . . Thanks for the correlation, 10 and for letting me techno babble on your lovely blog. 🤠

        I THINK I have seen it . . .

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