Tag Archives: Brett Morgen

Sound + Vision

Moonage Daydream

by George Wolf

Longtime David Bowie fans know of his early fondness for the “cut up” method to writing songs – literally cutting up lines of written lyrics and then shifting them around in search of more enigmatic creations.

Director Brett Morgen takes a similar approach to telling Bowie’s story in Moonage Daydream, a completely intoxicating documentary that immerses you in the legendary artist’s iconic mystique and ambitious creative process.

Bowie’s estate gifted Morgen with the key to the archives, and the celebrated documentarian (The Kid Stays in the Picture, Jane, Cobain: Montage of Heck) pored through the thousands of hours of footage for moments that could stand on their own while serving a greater narrative. The result is a glorious explosion of sound and vision, revealing Morgen’s choice to trust himself as film editor was also a damn good one.

Anchored by atmospheric bookends that evoke Bowie’s image as the ethereal “man who fell to Earth,” Morgen unleashes a barrage of concert sequences, still photos and interviews clips, interspersed with bits of old movies, news reports and pop culture references. It’s a luscious and cinematic (especially in IMAX) mashup, and one that slowly unveils a subtle but purposeful roadmap.

The music is thrilling and visceral, of course, but the interview footage reveals Bowie to be tremendously inquisitive and philosophical. We see him as a truly gifted artist who felt satisfaction when he “worked well,” but apprehension with new projects (such as painting) that didn’t yet meet his standards.

At first, Morgen’s approach may seem scattershot, as he appears more concerned with blowing our minds than chronological purity. But what becomes clear is that Morgen’s commitment leans toward grouping slices of Bowie’s life that speak to who he was (i.e. juxtaposing a “Rock and Roll Suicide” performance from the 70s with comments about his “sellout” 80s period). And by the time Bowie’s looking back fondly on his first meeting with wife Iman, an appropriate and touching timeline has emerged.

Though the last years of Bowie’s life are skirted just a bit, Moonage Daydream is like no music biography that you’ve ever seen. It’s a risky, daring and defiant experience, which is exactly the kind of film David Bowie deserves. Expect two hours and fifteen minutes of head-spinning fascination, and a sense that you’ve gotten closer to one Starman than you ever felt possible.

Into the Wild


by George Wolf

Of all the feels stirred by Brett Morgen’s new documentary Jane, perhaps the most lasting is the wonderful rediscovery of an iconic personality we thought we knew.

And if you didn’t know Jane Goodall at all, this is an unforgettable introduction.

Goodall was a young secretary to famed archeologist Dr. Louis Leakey in 1962 when the Dr. dispatched her to Tanzania for a groundbreaking study of  free-living chimpanzees. Her qualifications? Only a love of animals and a passion to live among them.

To Leakey, this only made Jane more valuable, as she would enter the wild with no predetermined biases that might cloud her findings. As the project gained notoriety, National Geographic assigned acclaimed photographer Hugo van Lawick to join Goodall, eventually becoming her first husband.

Morgen (The Kid Stays in the Picture, Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck) was blessed with over 100 hours of van Lawick’s 16mm footage, and he lets it breathe in a manner that is remarkably organic. These archives, swimming in a loving score from Philip Glass, put us right next to Goodall as she blazes her scientific trail.

The sense of discovery quickly becomes twofold. Goodall was experiencing things unknown to science (as an untrained “comely young miss,” no less), and we become the quiet student of her environment, as she was to the chimps of the Gombe Reserve.

Morgen also includes current memories from Goodall, now in her eighties, and her insightful commentary, interspersed as it is with striking film of her younger self embarking on a historic journey, adds a touching, heartfelt layer.

Jane’s is a remarkable story of curiosity, commitment and the passion to learn. And Jane, easily one of the best docs of 2017, is a beautiful piece of storytelling.