Naturally, Rett Morgen has vivid memories of his encounter with David Bowie. 

Unsurprisingly, Brett Morgen has vivid memories of his encounter with David Bowie. A non-fiction, on-the-road movie was offered to the singer in 2007 by a documentary specialist. The meeting went badly. In reference to Chicago 10, a partially animated film about the anti-war protestors tried after the 1968 Democratic National Convention, Morgen snorts, “He pissed on one of my pictures.” He was speaking quite harshly.

Unafraid to speak his mind, Morgen wasn’t ready to back down. An assistant stepped in and inquired about his favorite Bowie record. To be really honest, David, I can’t say I’ve appreciated anything you’ve done since ’83, I remarked as I turned to face him. David then said, “Touché!” as he turned to face me. Now, I’ve heard the word “touché” in television shows and cartoons, but no one has ever used it in real life.

Bowie later turned down the film project while semi-retired, and Morgen switched his attention to other musical greats, filming the Rolling Stones documentary Crossfire Hurricane in 2012 and Kurt Cobain biopic Cobain: Montage of Heck in 2015. He also came up with a big new idea. He explains, “I came up with this notion to establish this new genre that I was calling the IMAX music experience—a series of 15 films that were anything but biographical and allowed the viewer to have an experience with a musician.

Bowie passed dead soon after, in January 2016. Bill Zysblat was contacted by Morgen, who suggested that The Thin White Duke would be ideal for such a novel strategy. Bowie has been archiving everything for the last two decades, according to Zysblat. What are we going to do with all this material, [Bowie] had asked Bill. I’m not interested in producing a conventional documentary. And that’s when I arrived. Morgen spent the following five years immersed in Bowie-land after becoming the first filmmaker to be given permission to explore this treasure trove.

The resulting movie, Moonage Daydream, directed by Morgen, is a dizzying journey across Bowie’s discography. True to his word, it’s a Bowie experience: a mashup of previously unreleased performance footage, exclusive interviews, and behind-the-scenes shots, crisscrossing his career like some kind of deranged Bowie boomerang. If you’re searching for a cozy chronological portrait, look elsewhere. The album begins with 1995’s pumped-up, ravey “Hallo Spaceboy.” The thought of his conversing with himself in another time and space attracted me, says Morgen. In Serious Moonlight (1983), a live performance film by David Bowie, you may see him in an airport during one moment and being interviewed by Russell Harty ten years afterward.

“David Bowie is not the topic. Not David Jones, per se. Bowie is cited,” explains Morgen. The purpose of the song is to serve as a mirror so that you, the listeners, can recognize your own Bowie and consider your own life. The most exciting thing, in my opinion, is not that David Bowie walked into the studio one night with Brian May and Freddie Mercury and performed “Under Pressure,” but rather that you can watch a movie about him and learn how to be a better parent or how to have a more fulfilling life.

According to Morgen, the “chronology,” such as it is, was planned. He pretentiously compares it to Homer’s epic work The Iliad. “I took a look at all the adventures David had. He was causing storms for himself to create. I therefore interpreted his voyage as the hero’s journey, a mythical one. Bowie playing the Greek hero Achilles who battles the Trojans? I suppose there have been stranger similarities throughout his amazing, shape-shifting life.

Morgen started looking through Bowie’s collection of still images, 16mm film, and 35mm film, a total of five million assets. He explains, “We only expected that there would be four months’ worth of footage to screen, so we went through our entire budget.” It required two years. Morgen was consequently allowed to edit the movie by himself. Not because I wanted to because I couldn’t afford to pay anyone, His body gave out on him while he was working from 8 am until midnight alone in a dark studio. He states matter-of-factly, “On January 5, 2017, I suffered a severe heart attack. “For three minutes, flatlined.”

For a week, Morgen lay in a coma. “I had a heart attack because my life had gotten out of hand. I’ve always been a tsunami, with no sense of balance and complete commitment to whatever I’m doing. He started to feel hollow inside after his recovery. “What has my life been worth?” I wondered. Sincerely, caring for and safeguarding your children is the sole worth in life when you have them. After that, I began to appreciate Bowie. At that point in my life, it would be an understatement to say that I needed him.

The 53-year-old Morgen, like many others, first became aware of Bowie when he was a child and even attended a Serious Moonlight tour performance. But this coming together during a crisis was a different story. He claims, “He returned into my life to show me how to live.” It truly was a reset. I immediately realized that this movie would be my chance to teach my kids all they would need to know in order to live happy and full lives in the twenty-first century.

When we first meet, it has been more than five years since that pivotal encounter, and Morgen is just a few hours from the midnight Cannes Film Festival premiere of Moonage Daydream. He is wearing a burgundy suit with pink socks, a pink shirt, and stubble while seated in a private studio off the Croisette, the town’s major thoroughfare. His rapid-fire intensity makes it evident that his health issue hasn’t diminished that inner tsunami. He will dance in front of the cameras on the red carpet that evening when “Let’s Dance” plays over the PA system. After everything he’s been through, it was a therapeutic act of self-expression.

He is also aware that this is the first time Bowie fans will see any of this unreleased material, or as he puts it, “the missing unicorns.” The recordings of the fabled 1978 Earls Court concerts for his Berlin-era albums “Heroes” and “Low,” were never formally placed into the public domain. According to Morgen, the Earls Court show is undoubtedly the Holy Grail. “That information was put on hold. He declared, “I’m done,” as soon as the tour was over. As he did with every bit of video, Morgen watched it all in slow motion. Five cameras were used. two evenings. the 35 millimeters. with 24 tracks. Possibly David’s best performance in a movie during his career.

The wonderful, melancholy, and entirely instrumental opening track from Low’s set, “Warszawa,” stands out as one of the show’s highlights and is sure to send shivers down the spines of any Bowie lover. Morgen maintained the standards he applies to all of his music docs throughout. He states, “I don’t do clips.” “I never take two shots back to back.” As a result, Bowie’s career-launching performance of “Starman” on Top Of The Pops was banned, along with Glastonbury. That important headlining performance from 2000 is gone, bang.

Only a portion of the game included editing the reams of content into a comprehensible whole. Morgen was adamant about releasing the movie on IMAX screens, the enormous format typically used for blockbuster movies, so it required combining the complicated soundscapes of the movie appropriately. Paul Massey, the incredibly skilled sound mixer who won an Oscar for the Queen film Bohemian Rhapsody, was contacted as a result of him doing so. He has been working in movies since the middle of the 1980s, including concert pictures like Michael Jackson’s This Is It and One Direction’s This Is Us. He was a former recording engineer who had toured with bands like Yes and Supertramp.

Making the frequently unsteady, scratchy audio seem like it belonged on a modern huge screen was a monumental undertaking that lay ahead. “At first, the mix was supposed to last for five or six weeks. And that morphed into — on and off — over roughly a year and a half, according to Massey, who enlisted the help of his sound effects mixing colleague Dave Giammarco and fellow Oscar winners John Warhurst and Nina Hartstone from the Bohemian Rhapsody sound crew.

One thinks of the word “painstaking.” Particularly when Morgen was selecting takes from video that hasn’t been viewed in public for close to 50 years. According to Massey, one performance in Tel Aviv required the use of a three-quarter inch pneumatic videotape from the 1970s. And you can probably guess how the audio was. However, we did our best to tidy it up. In an effort to make it sound live, we also added delays and reverbs.

In order to record a realistic acoustic experience, Hartstone and Warhurst even went to a London football stadium and played tracks through the PA system while being mic’d up at various locations throughout the venue. However, this only touched the surface of a movie in which Morgen occasionally switches between various mixes of the same songs. I occasionally considered the question, “Is this the original song? Or has Brett combined it all?'” asks Massey. And most of the time, Brett was the one combining everything.

It was extremely difficult to edit footage of Bowie being interviewed, from dealing with audio distorted by background noises like studio lights and camera equipment to gently threading conversational tidbits amid many Bowie songs. The majority of the time, according to Massey, music is playing. More and more as he worked on the movie, he was getting a better look inside Bowie’s head. “I had the distinct impression that we were learning about his most private thoughts. Additionally, it was a fascinating location.

Even Morgen learned new things as Moonage Daydream took shape. From an interview Bowie gave before his 1983 record “Let’s Dance” catapulted him to superstardom on a global scale and in stadiums. “I don’t want to have to undertake something so intense, he says in it. I want to accomplish something that makes others happy,” declares Morgen. “Becoming a pop act was the same as becoming Ziggy or Aladdin Sane. It was intentional. He was going to join society at large. It was merely another obstacle. That absolutely blew my head. That isn’t how it works. “Okay, okay, I believe now I’ll double down and go for 100,000-seat stadiums and kick Michael Jackson’s ass,” you don’t suddenly decide.

The question is whether Morgen is able to connect with the genuine man—who famously and evasively declares in the movie: “I collect personalities”—through this unique access. Francis Whately, who produced David Bowie: Five Years (2013) and its two posthumous sequels, The Last Five Years (2017) and Finding Fame, is one of several who have tried (2019). Prior to that, Bowie was profiled by Alan Yentob in Cracked Actor (1975), while Gerry Troyna’s Ricochet (1984) followed him at the tail end of the Serious Moonlight tour.

He did a great job, in my opinion, in his documentaries, adds Morgen. All activity is performance. In comparison to Yentob, who described the artist as “fragile, exhausted, and wasted” as he repeatedly performed the “Diamond Dogs” (1974) record, it may be said that Morgen doesn’t get any closer to Bowie than anyone else because she is unable to get past the man behind the masks. Instead, Moonage Daydream is a weird voyage across space and time with Bowie at the helm that paints a picture of a restless artist through his various alter personas. At least until Bowie married the businesswoman and model Iman in the middle of the 1990s and achieved emotional equilibrium.

Despite what he said to the musician when they first met in 2007, Morgen has grown to love late-era Bowie over the past 15 years. He had developed a passion for records from the 1990s including “Outside,” “Earthling,” and “Heathen” (2002). One of his goals for the movie was to introduce newcomers to Bowie’s songs from the later years, he explains. But when he inserted it into the movie, it dragged. He then dropped it and returned to his opening tune. Why did I need to go to “Earthling” after he sang “Hallo Spaceboy” live? Morgen reflects. He is once again fucking cool. He’s fibbing his back. Touché!, to quote Bowie.