Unbound: The David Bowie Instagram series designed to mystify
James R | On 02, Mar 2016
David Bowie was many things. Musician. Movie star. Fashion guru. Pop culture icon. Alien. Friend. Goblin king. Inspiration to be yourself. Cool. The list goes on, but now, you can add something else to it: web series creator.
Before his passing earlier this year, Bowie did something completely unexpected (which, aptly enough, was one of few things one could expect of him): he opened his doors in secret to filmmakers Carolynn Cecilia and Nikki Borges, who work on an Instagram channel called InstaMiniSeries. Giving them advance access to the music and images from his album ★, he invited them to create a web series for Instagram inspired by the songs.
The result is Unbound, an Instagram show that unfolds in episodes of 15 seconds. Episodes are released every Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, with the first released last week. At the time of writing, four of 16 have been published so far. And they make for bewitching, bewildering viewing.
Opening in a period library, where we can hear Bowie on the wireless, a young boy adjusts the set to pick up different music (also Bowie). What follows is bizarre, confusing, but also intriguing: we jump from a man in the street, with a bleeding nose, to a boy flying through space. “She punched me like a dude,” sings David in the background. Is it a literal account of what’s just happened off-camera? Has this man out cold on the pavement just been lamped by a lady? Is the boy in the library a memory of his? A hallucination? Is the boy simply listening to the man’s story on the radio? And if so, is the man in the present, past or future?
Each chapter only adds to the mystery, with every frame stacked full of tiny details seemingly intended to perplex; a book with the BLACKSTAR logo sits on the table, while black stars fly past the boy as he zips through a transcendent, white void. Cecilia (the writer) and Borges (the director) were giving no limits or preconditions by Bowie in the making of the show, invited merely to offer their own visual interpretations of the album’s tracks.
Given the length to which people have already puzzled over BLACKSTAR’s lyrics, wondering if it’s an album Bowie wrote about his death, it’s no surprise that the series should prove just as elusive and intricate – a quarter of the way into the programme and it’s still no clearer than the album is on its fifteenth listen. And that’s before we’ve even got to Patricia Clarkson as a lounge singer. What is clear, though, is that Bowie’s work continues to prove just as rich as ever, in whatever form it’s consumed. The use of Modern Love in Noah Baumbach’s Frances Ha, for example, is a tiny masterpiece in itself, transforming the song as originally written into a new art form. The same is true of the Portuguese covers of Bowie’s most popular numbers by Seu Jorge in The Life Aquatic. Unbound is a series designed to make you think, not just about what it means, but about BLACKSTAR the album, and about David Bowie’s music in general; it’s less a narrative and more a chance to pause and reflect, to appreciate and celebrate the fact that even after his death, David Bowie continues to inspire creativity in other media. A glance at the comments on each episode, some weirded out and some switched on, but all engaging with each other, provides a testament to the icon’s ability to bring people together – and, like the boy on our screens, to free their minds to wander, unbound, through his music. We’re not sure where the following 12 episodes will lead, but we look forward to finding out.