David Bowie’s death came as a shock to many. I had awoken during a night of restless sleep and decided to put on Bowie’s newest album as I tried to fall back asleep. Before I had drifted off again there was an alert on my phone, a rarity that late at night. It was difficult to believe that David Bowie could be dead, so soon after releasing a new album, but the announcement of his death felt even stranger, coming at the moment of my personal connection with his music. There will be no more music from Bowie, but his connection to the arts extends beyond his music. In fact, beyond being a trailblazing musician, Bowie was also an accomplished actor. That part of his oeuvre was understandably subservient to his music, but was nonetheless underrecognized.
Part of what made Bowie’s acting so captivating was that he never fully disappeared into a role, despite his best efforts. Although he was famous for all of the musical characters he created throughout his career, each one was really just a facet of his own persona; we were always watching David Bowie on stage, whether it was Ziggy Stardust or the Thin White Duke. On film, the audience is always aware that they are watching him, rather than his character. This phenomenon used to be more common in the golden age of Hollywood, where audiences came to see Carey Grant or Jimmy Stewart, rather than to see a character in a film. Bowie’s inability to be subsumed, harkened back to that classic period. It was a failure that audiences delight to.
Another aspect of Bowie’s screen persona that made him intriguing is how much his roles attempted to negate his stage persona. Bowie the musician was wild and energetic, aggressive but still inviting. In contrast, Bowie was much more introverted in his private life, the moments when he stopped performing. Many of Bowie’s film roles are introverted and mysterious, closer to his private persona than his public face. . .
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