An oddity of an odyssey
He says it isn’t so, but Duncan Jones’s haunting tale of a lonely astronaut, carries more than a little flavour of the far-out croonings of the director’s famous dad, David Bowie. Jones tells Donald Clarke the full story behind Zowie Bowie
YOU HAVE TO feel for Duncan Jones. Okay, he has directed an excellent debut feature, which, following loud buzz at the Sundance Film Festival, has received tremendous reviews in the US. Indeed, Moon, a science-fiction chamber piece starring Sam Rockwell, is just the sort of film that generates fanatical and durable cult followings. And, sure enough, roundfaced, wearing a wispy near-beard, Mr Jones appears to be enjoying his promotional duties at the Edinburgh Film Festival.
His strangely familiar eyes – why are they so familiar? – sparkle with excitement and he gabbles his answers with admirable enthusiasm. “It’s been a huge relief that people like the film,” he says. “You never really know until audiences get to look at it.”
Yet, for all his apparent nonchalance, Jones knows that there is an unacknowledged dozing elephant in the room. Eventually, aware that it must inevitably be woken, he decides to poke the beast himself.
“Sundance was the first public screening of any kind,” he says. “I was very happy with the result. The build up was nerve-wracking. Then my dad decided to turn up at the last minute. I knew he might turn up, but it wasn’t confirmed until a few hours beforehand. I was so relieved that he liked it. I think he was relieved that he liked it. But he’s always a proud dad anyway.”
As you will probably have gathered, the director’s father is no ordinary Mr Jones. For the rest of his life, however famous he becomes in his own right, Duncan Jones will remain the first child of David Bowie.
It must be a drag. Before I set out to meet him, my slightly younger partner, who enjoys a joke, remarked upon Jones’s plight. “That poor, poor man,” she said. “He’s going to be besieged by hacks your age asking why his dad never answered the letter they wrote him in 1978.”
Jones offers a sincere smile and gestures towards his bag. “I’ve got a letter for you here, actually,” he laughs. “Look, I was prepared for this and I understand it. One of the reasons I waited so long to make my first film was that I wanted to build up a thick skin, so I could deal with it.”
The subject matter of Jones’s superb film positively demands that we compare his art to his father’s. Set on a grubby moon base, established to supervise the mining of a substance necessary for generating nuclear fusion, the film finds Sam Rockwell’s lone worker discov- ering unhappy intelligence about the true nature of his professional circumstances. Featuring a phlegmatic computer voiced by Kevin Spacey, the film carries as many flavours of Bowie’s Space Oddity as it does of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.
“I definitely wasn’t referencing anything my dad had done,” Jones says. “I know it’s bizarre, but I didn’t even think of that until after we’d made the film. It was only after we’d made it that people began comparing it with all these things my dad had done. A lot of my early experiences of life were listening to the music he was listening to and watching the films he was watching, so it is hardly surprising there are similarities in what we do.”
Not every child of a rock star survives his or her adolescence unscathed, but Jones seems impressively unburdened by arrogance or preciousness. Yet he has been almost famous all his life.
Nearly four decades ago, David and Angie Bowie brought a baby into the world and, according to a shocked Daily Beast, named him Zowie Bowie. If you’ve seen the AfricanAmerican ladies in Brüno snarling at the hero for calling his baby OJ, you'll have some idea of the feigned disgust that steamed off the newsprint.
“Actually, I was christened Duncan Zowie Jones,” he explains with an amused sigh. “Bowie is my dad’s stage name, so I was never, ever called Zowie Bowie. The tabloids liked that because it rhymed. My parents did call me Zowie now and then, but then, realising that it drew too much attention, they called me ‘Joe’. Then, later, I sort-of co-opted my own name back.”
Admirers of Bowie will be pleased to hear that, for all his flamboyance, the great man appears to have been an excellent father. He fretted when Duncan didn’t sit his A-Levels. He couldn’t understand why, when the lad seemed so inclined towards film-making, he attempted a PhD thesis titled (deep breath) How to Kill Your Computer Friend: An Investigation of the Mind/Body Problem and How It Relates to the Hypothetical Creation of a Thinking Machine.
Still, watching documentary footage of Bowie from the mid-1970s, when he was suffering from the paranoia that cocaine induces, one can’t help but worry for the young Jones. Following the break-up of his marriage in 1976, the musician gained custody of his son. Was Duncan aware of the drug taking?
“Not really. I was very sheltered in some