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

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Cover Story -

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


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