We lost the incomparable David Bowie last night, a figure whose impression on this planet is hard to overstate.
We’re all familiar with David Bowie’s contributions to the field of music as a god among men, but how well do you know him as an actor? Unable to play an ordinary man, it’s no surprise Bowie glided enigmatically from one film to the next, routinely representing eternal youth and alienation.
Though not every film choice has been a jewel, here is a handful of recommendations, along with a good Bowie tune to get you in the mood for each movie.
THE HUNGER (1983)
Director Tony Scott’s first major film is a stylish if dated vampire fable.
A beautiful true vampire is in need of a new human lover, because her current mate’s age is finally catching up to him. Atmospheric and sensual, the film is best known for Catherine Deneuve/Susan Sarandon love scenes, but Bowie is hauntingly memorable as Deneuve’s doomed lover John Blaylock.
Quote: Are you making a pass at me, Mrs. Blaylock?
Song: Scary Monsters
THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST (1988)
Scorsese’s once-controversial crucifixion movie sees Christ as a masochistic everyman, exemplifying moral struggle rather than biblical “accuracy.” Bowie’s small but pivotal role as Pontius Pilate (actually a combination of Pilate and Herod), is understated and effective. The film is more literary than literal, and benefits from a dreamy quality created through Michael Ballhaus’s cinematography and Peter Gabriel’s score.
Quote: It simply doesn’t matter how you want to change things; we don’t want them changed.
Song: The Man Who Sold the World
MERRY CHRISTMAS, MR. LAWRENCE (1983)
This powerful culture clash tale is the underrated story of WWII British prisoners of war in a Japanese camp, perhaps more meaningful now than when it was released in 1983. Haunting cinematography and score, as well as subtle performances and Nagisa Oshima’s fearless direction, combine to create an intensely emotional film. Bowie’s Maj. Celliers, the most layered and provocative character, is the most polished performance of his acting career.
Quote: There are times when victory is very hard to take.
This meandering biopic of NY artist Jean Michel Basquiat is buoyed by one of the most reliably brilliants casts ever assembled: Jeffrey Wright, Benicio del Toro, Christopher Walken, Gary Oldman, Dennis Hopper, Parker Posey, and Willem Dafoe. David Bowie more than holds his own amidst this remarkable group, surprisingly insightful as Basquiat’s only true friend, Andy Warhol. An absolutely killer soundtrack gives scenes a little added punch.
Quote: You kids. You drink red wine with fish. You can do anything.
Song: Andy Warhol
MR. RICE’S SECRET (2000)
This rarely seen gem of a children’s film is a low budget Canadian fantasy told without condescension to a pre-pubescent audience. Bowie plays Mr. Rice, wise and mysterious friend to a terminally ill boy. Though the film has its clunky, almost TV movie moments, on the whole it’s a refreshing and interesting coming of age film, made even more poignant with tempered morbidity.
Quote: Every man needs a good blue suit.
Song: My Death
THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH (1976)
A very sympathetic, delicate Bowie finds himself on an alien planet (Earth) in this post-modern tale of the trappings of modern life. This eccentric film, co-starring Candy Clark, Rip Torn, and Buck Henry, could be a time capsule of 1976. The film, though sometimes hard to follow, benefits from director Nicolas Roeg’s mastery behind the camera, but it is Bowie’s performance that makes Man memorable.
Quote: Mr. Newton, are you crazy?
Song: Loving the Alien
THE PRESTIGE (2006)
Maybe an unusual casting choice by director Christopher Nolan for the role Nicola Tesla, but in a film built around illusion, Bowie delivers an impressive mix of the legendary and the enigmatic
Quote: You’re familiar with the phrase, ‘Man’s reach exceeds his grasp’?
Song: Life on Mars?
A cameo, yes, but it made perfect sense! Who else to judge the walkoff?
Quote: I believe I might be of service
Mr. Bowie, you are and will continue to be deeply missed.