On Saturday, BBC Two did what feels like the sixteenth or seventeenth Bowie night. You can still watch the cornerstone documentary, Five Years, on iPlayer, unless you're reading this in the future, or overseas, or on a print-out.
But what did people think?
Tim Footman at Cultural Snow liked it:
Although the basic narrative will be familiar to many, some of the freshly unearthed archive footage is a real shock to the senses, looping as it does in and out of the stuff that gets trotted out for every 70s nostalgia fest (Starman on TOTP, bits of Cracked Actor and so on). Moreover, the fresh interviews prove that there’s nothing inherently wrong with that much-derided format, the talking heads doc, provided the heads are judiciously chosen and given sensible questions to answer. Indeed, so rich were the pickings from people who worked with Bowie in some of his most productive periods (with Visconti *and* Eno *and* Fripp you’re spoiling us) that – completely irrationally and unfairly – I felt cheated by the very few omissions; why, for example, did we hear the recollections of guitarist Carlos Alomar and drummer Dennis Davis but not bassist George Murray? Were Angie Bowie or Iggy Pop washing their hair?Actually, given Angie Bowie's track-record as an unreliable witness - claiming, variously, to have invented Bowie, bisexuality and possibly the concept of music - keeping her out the way was probably a wise move.
In The Guardian, Sam Woolaston concedes the programme was "better than most music documentaries", which he puts down to the subject, rather than the approach. But not before he has some fun at the programme's expense:
No, don't stop, more! Of Queen Bitch, Suffragette City, Fame, Golden Years, Young Americans, Ashes to Ashes, even Let's Dance. They're all rudely interrupted though. By Rick Wakeman, saying: "I got a call from Dave, he called me directly." A direct call, eh Rick?Ha ha. Yes, that does sound stupid, except... it was worth noting, surely? Wakeman wasn't opening his eyes wide at the concept of a person-to-person call, more at the idea that Bowie spoke to him, rather than the more traditional 'have-your-people-call-his-people' route; that Bowie knew who we wanted, and went directly to him. Worth mentioning, surely?
Which Sam actually, sort-of acknowledges:
And Rick Wakeman's unpicking of Life on Mars is fascinating, because it's Life on Mars and it's Rick Wakeman (plus I'd show off a bit if Dave had phoned me, directly or otherwise).Well, sort of.
For Michael Deacon in The Telegraph, it all comes down to class:
There was a bonus pleasure in being reminded that not only did Bowie have an incongruous speaking voice, but so did his early Seventies bandmates. Wafting around on stage: gold-bloused glamourpusses. Open their mouths: bricklayers from Hull.
The Scotsman's Aidan Smith spotted a brighter star than Bowie in amongst the contributors:
Five Years’ funniest contributor? Actually, that was Robert Fripp. If you know me as a prog-rock fan, you probably think it tediously predictable that I’d nominate someone from King Crimson, but, really, Fripp was hilarious. Did he think he was on Jackanory? Slightly alarmingly, did he think Jackanory was a forum for rude anecdotes (too rude to repeat here)?Incidentally, after saving his readers from a fit of the vapours by repeating Fripp's anecdotes, Smith then details the upsetting plot of a crime programme where a kid was traumatised by seeing his mother, a sex-worker, murdered.
It makes you think, doesn't it, Helen Nianias over in Fabulous magazine's Tellyboxing column. What was it that made Bowie such a legend?:
Is he a the biggest genius of our time, or just a shrewd businessman? It’s a tricky line to tread. However, the opening shot of Bowie himself is breathtaking. But not because of what he’s wearing or saying or doing. As he descends a flight of hotel steps...Yes?
...you see just how strikingly tall and thin he really was in his ’70s heyday.David Bowie. He was tall.
Maybe someone should be pitching a show in which people measure pop stars and plot them on some sort of a graph?