VOD film review: David Bowie: Finding Fame
James R | On 30, Jun 2020
Director: Francis Whately
Cast: David Bowie
Watch David Bowie: Finding Fame online in the UK: BritBox UK
“I’ve never been a head of anything. I’ve been, I think, on my own.” That’s David Bowie after being asked in a TV interview how long he could keep up being the icon that Ziggy Stardust was. It’s a rare moment of candid clarity from the icon, whose elusive, ever-changing, androgynous ambiguity has been part of his enduring appeal for decades. The idea of cracking that mystery open to find out what makes him tick, then, might seem like a fool’s errand, but Francis Whately’s trilogy of Bowie documentaries is as close as we’ll likely ever get – even if they ultimately underline how unknowable he is.
Five Years, the first in the trilogy, examined five key years in his career, as he morphed from one persona to another, while The Last Five Years gave us a glimpse of the laidback older Bowie before he passed away. Finding Fame, though, goes in the opposite direction, taking us back to the beginning – to 1966, the year when David Jones changed his name to David Bowie.
It’s a goldmine of unseen footage and unknown trivia, and Finding Fame’s strength lies just in how well-researched it is, as Whately unearths interviews with Bowie’s former bandmates. The Lower Third, from the 1960s, fizzled out – he’s described as a “Cockney type” singer in a scathing review – while a clip of Bowie’s music video for The Laughing Gnome is as disturbing as it is fascinating.
With Bowie a notably elusive figure as always, Whately’s work has leaned heavily on friends and collaborators to give us anecdotes and accounts of behind-the-scenes musicianship, but it’s that footage of Bowie in action that really lands here – tracing his influences and inspirations all the way from his familiar mime experiences to Bill and Ben the Flowerpot Men from Watch with Mother.
That dovetails beautifully with “the girl with the mousy hair” mentioned in Life on Mars, who turns out to be Hermione Farthingale, a dancer who left for Norway to join a theatre group. Bowie was heartbroken, and Farthingale’s contributions bring a poignant insight to his early life and inspirations. We also hear about his distant mum and rebellious half-brother, but it’s that broken heart that lingers, one more piece of the puzzle that will likely never been completed, but remains all the more mesmerising because of it.
David Bowie: Finding Fame is available on BritBox, as part of a £5.99 monthly subscription.