Times Colonist

Star­dust features Bowie with­out his mu­sic

Late mu­si­cian’s fans don’t like it, but Bri­tish di­rec­tor says it was al­ways part of the plan

- DAVID FRIEND Entertainment · Filmmaking · Celebrities · Movies · David Bowie · Queen · Elizabeth II · Elton John · London · English · Johnny Flynn · Marc Maron · United States of America · Toronto · Kelly Clarkson · Iggy Pop · West Berlin · Berlin · George W. Bush · Gabriel Range · Bohemian Rhapsody · Elton · Rocketman · Bowie, MD · The Yardbirds

Gabriel Range’s con­tro­ver­sial David Bowie drama Star­dust has an­gered fans of the pop mu­sic icon for many rea­sons, but the Bri­tish di­rec­tor thinks much of it comes down to mis­guided ex­pec­ta­tions.

The film­maker points to the pop­u­lar­ity of re­cent juke­box mu­si­cals — Queen’s rowdy biopic Bo­hemian Rhap­sody and El­ton John’s vi­brant Rock­et­man — as un­fairly rais­ing the bar for his Cana­dian-shot in­die drama to op­er­ate on a sim­i­lar level of un­teth­ered en­ergy.

“They’re both great films, they’re just not the kind of film that I wanted to make,” he ex­plained in an in­ter­view from London ahead of the re­lease of Star­dust on Fri­day in the­atres and video-on-de­mand.

“I hope rather than be­ing a sing-along, [ Star­dust] tells you some­thing that you ac­tu­ally didn’t know … It is a quiet, in­ti­mate film about a young man set­ting out on a jour­ney as a per­former.”

The film, which Range says isn’t a “biopic” be­cause it only spans a year of Bowie’s life, features English ac­tor Johnny Flynn in the lead role and co­me­dian Marc Maron as his U.S. pub­li­cist.

To­gether, they set out on a tour of the United States as the 24-year-old singer at­tempts to over­come his one-hit-won­der sta­tus, play­ing small bar shows and min­gling with jour­nal­ists and ra­dio disc jock­eys.

Bowie’s break­out 1972 Ziggy Star­dust al­bum was still on the hori­zon, and his at­ten­tion was di­vided be­tween the per­sonal tur­moil of his brother’s de­te­ri­o­rat­ing men­tal health and the search for his own pub­lic per­sona.

Shot in 16 days around Toronto and Hamilton, the film uses lo­cal mo­tels, con­cert halls and coun­try roads to stand in for the United States of the early 1970s.

But Star­dust is miss­ing one key el­e­ment of the per­former’s early life: his mu­sic.

Bowie’s es­tate re­fused to par­tic­i­pate in the pro­ject and de­clined the rights to his songs. Those miss­ing el­e­ments left a dent that’s hard to ig­nore.

In one scene, Flynn’s Bowie makes an an­tic­i­pated step onto the stage only to launch into a cover of I Wish You Would by the Yard­birds, a point that’s been mocked on­line.

Range doesn’t con­sider the ab­sence of the songs that launched Bowie’s ca­reer a strike against his film’s au­then­tic­ity and says he knew all along he wouldn’t have ac­cess to the mu­si­cian’s early cat­a­logue.

He had ex­pe­ri­enced sim­i­lar dif­fi­cul­ties in the past.

An­other script he co-wrote be­fore Star­dust cen­tred on the months Bowie spent with Iggy Pop in West Ber­lin, as they tried to es­cape fame and break their drug ad­dic­tions.

But se­cur­ing the rights to mu­sic from two le­gends was even more com­pli­cated, he said. Plans to shoot the film never got off the ground.

So in the case of Star­dust, Range in­sists it was al­ways less about the mu­sic and more about the man, an ap­proach that he found “hugely lib­er­at­ing.”

“In­stead of hav­ing that enor­mous pres­sure to make it a spin through his great­est hits, there was the op­por­tu­nity to do some­thing that was much more mod­est,” he said.

Still, that hasn’t made launch­ing Star­dust into the cin­e­matic strato­sphere any eas­ier.

Many Bowie fans haven’t warmed to the film, say­ing that it was the singer’s wish to never have his life re-cre­ated for cin­e­matic en­ter­tain­ment.

They’ve let that feel­ing be known on so­cial me­dia, and Range said lead ac­tor Flynn has been the tar­get of “a lot of abuse” over his part in the pro­ject.

But Range is ac­cus­tomed to be­ing on the de­fen­sive for his work.

In 2006, he di­rected the docu­d­rama Death of a Pres­i­dent, which imag­ines the as­sas­si­na­tion of then-U.S. Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush. The film ig­nited a fury of crit­i­cism at the Toronto In­ter­na­tional Film Fes­ti­val where it pre­mièred and led to him re­ceiv­ing a num­ber of death threats.

Noth­ing so dra­matic has hap­pened with Star­dust, he said, though he still takes is­sue with Bowie faith­ful who don’t think film­mak­ers should have the free­dom to in­ter­pret the story be­hind his cul­tural im­pact.

“It’s an en­tirely valid thing for us to ex­plore the life of a pub­lic fig­ure,” he said.

“And we do it in a way that is del­i­cate and sen­si­tive.”

 ?? EL­E­VA­TION PIC­TURES ?? Ac­tor Johnny Flynn stars as David Bowie in the con­tro­ver­sial film Star­dust, which failed to get rights to use Bowie’s mu­sic.
EL­E­VA­TION PIC­TURES Ac­tor Johnny Flynn stars as David Bowie in the con­tro­ver­sial film Star­dust, which failed to get rights to use Bowie’s mu­sic.

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