This weekend, BBC Two premiered David Bowie: The Last Five Years, a timely documentary that focuses on Bowie’s albums The Next Day and Blackstar as well as the musical Lazarus. The film, produced by the BBC considered and included a whole host of Bowie’s collaborators and friends such as Tony Visconti, discussing his Reality tour, which saw a vast change in his health as well as his surprise comeback ten years later, as well as the works for Blackstar, all leading up to his unexpected death in January 2016. And with it being his 70th birthday today, if he had still been with us, and almost a year since he passed away, it was the perfect time to celebrate the man’s life.
An insightful look into the lead up to his passing, this documentary, directed and produced by Francis Whately, includes rare and archival audio and footage of the man himself. This includes the original vocal, which Bowie had recorded for Lazarus, his last release before his death, first heard on this documentary. With unprecedented access to Bowie’s closest friends and collaborators this was intended as an unforgettable tribute to one of the greatest musical icons of modern times. However much it did celebrate the life and career of one of music’s biggest icons, it did however lack the pace and innovation that a man of this kudos deserves.
Whately is a documentary director and producer, who had previously celebrated the Thin White Duke in 2013 with Five Years and a BBC producer to be relied upon to give a reflective account of his life. The Last Five Years is a charming homage, which will appeal to any Bowie fan, but in itself as a documentary is lacking a visceral approach.
Jonathan Barnbrook discussed the process by which he and Bowie came up with the striking cover design for The Next Day. The film also provided interviews with Bowie’s Blackstar collaborators, Maria Schneider and Donny McCaslin, whose band performed on the album. Johan Renck, director of Bowie’s final videos, discussed the making of these videos, incorporating talk between Bowie and himself around the “button eyes” character. Robert Fox, producer of Lazarus, reflected on the process with Bowie that led to the musical, and surprises the audience with information that Bowie had discussed making a sequel with him shortly after attending the premiere of the musical.
In one clip at the end of the documentary, producer Tony Visconti plays a bit of studio banter in which Bowie voices, “Little mouse fart.” Visconti retorts, “Here’s a little space oddity,” before erupting into laughter. This did highlight the eccentricities of Bowie and his humour, something rarely contemplated.
All in all, a fascinating discernment into the years leading up to the death of Britain’s leading musical icon, with little striking to render it a sheer delight.
For more on Francis Whately’s documentaries click here.