Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (film)
|Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||D. A. Pennebaker|
|Music by||David Bowie|
|Edited by||Lorry Whitehead|
|Distributed by||20th Century Fox (1983)|
Thorn EMI (1983)
Cowboy Pictures (2002 re-release)
|31 August 1979 (theatrical world premiere)|
23 December 1983 (general cinema release)
10 July 2002 (re-release)
|Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars: The Motion Picture|
(re-released 1998 and 2003)
|Recorded||3 July 1973|
|Label||MGM, RCA/ Columbia (1984 release)|
Image Entertainment (1998 re-release
EMI/ Virgin (2003 re-release)
|Director||D. A. Pennebaker|
|David Bowie chronology|
Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (sometimes called Bowie 1973) is a 1973 documentary and concert film by D. A. Pennebaker. It features David Bowie and his backing group The Spiders from Mars performing at the Hammersmith Odeon in London on 3 July 1973. At this show, Bowie made the sudden surprise announcement that the show would be "the last show that we'll ever do", later understood to mean that he was retiring his Ziggy Stardust persona.
The full-length 90-minute film spent years in post-production before finally having its theatrical premiere at the Edinburgh Film Festival on 31 August 1979. Prior to the premiere, the 35 mm film had been shown in 16 mm format a few times, mostly in United States college towns. A shortened 60-minute version was broadcast once in the USA on ABC-TV in October 1974.
In 1983, the film was finally released to theatres worldwide, corresponding with the release of its soundtrack album entitled Ziggy Stardust: The Motion Picture. The following year, in 1984, the film was released to home video under the title, Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars: The Motion Picture. The film was first released on DVD in 1998. A digitally remastered 30th Anniversary Edition DVD, including additional material from the live show and extras, was released in 2003.
Early in 1972, Bowie had taken the stage persona of Ziggy Stardust, a science fiction-based, theatrical, enigmatic, androgynous character, and produced two hit albums during this period. By July 1973, Bowie had been touring to promote his albums for nearly a year without a break. The 3 July show at the Hammersmith Odeon was the last show in the English concert tour promoting Bowie's 1973 album Aladdin Sane and the 60th gig in a tour of Britain that had started on 12 May, though an American tour was already being booked for the autumn. Very few people knew that Bowie had decided to drop the Ziggy persona and cancel performing for a while. Within his own entourage, Bowie had told only his then-manager Tony DeFries and one member of his band, Mick Ronson.
Near the end of the evening, in a "Farewell Speech" aptly just before the song "Rock 'n' Roll Suicide", Bowie announced, "Of all the shows on this tour, this particular show will remain with us the longest, because not only is it the last show of the tour, but it's the last show that we'll ever do."  The phrasing was deliberately ambiguous, but most of the audience and many newspapers and magazines took it to mean that Bowie was retiring from music. In fact, he had killed off his Ziggy persona but not his music career.
Pennebaker had previously directed several well-received music documentaries, including the concert film Monterey Pop (1968) and the Bob Dylan tour documentary Dont Look Back (1967). According to Pennebaker, RCA had sent him to film part of the show as a promo for a new video disc product the company was developing, and he had originally intended to film a few songs for approximately 20 minutes. Pennebaker had only scant knowledge of Bowie's music, apart from Space Oddity, and initially thought he was going to be filming Marc Bolan. After seeing Bowie's 2 July London show and the next morning's rehearsal, Pennebaker was impressed by Bowie's onstage charisma and the range of his songs. He quickly prepared to film the entire 3 July show, realising that "there was a full-length film here asking to be made". MainMan, Bowie's management company, reportedly "paid a small fortune" to finance the film, which they hoped to recoup through a theatrical release soon after the tour.
Pennebaker stated in a 2016 interview and on the commentary track for the 2003 DVD film release that he did not have advance knowledge of Bowie's "last show" announcement (called the "Farewell Speech" in the track lists for the film and soundtrack album). However, Dylan Jones in his 2012 book When Ziggy Played Guitar: David Bowie and the Four Minutes That Shook the World quoted Pennebaker as saying that "RCA said, we have this guy and he's going to do a concert, maybe the last one he's going to do, and you've got to go make a film."
During the filming, Pennebaker struggled with poor stage lighting and having only three people to shoot the concert (plus a fourth camera that was not used very much because it was too far away from the stage). He attempted to overcome these problems by focusing many shots tightly on Bowie, who was in a spotlight; filming the fans in attendance to capture the "frenzy" of the concert; and requesting that attendees take as many flash photographs as possible during the concert to provide additional light. Recording the sound also presented challenges, with Pennebaker having to conceal additional microphones onstage and in the mixing board, and integrate the sound of the audience, recorded with a stereo pair of microphones, with the audio from the concert stage.
Despite these techniques, Pennebaker has acknowledged that the resulting film was "very sloppy". According to film critic Phil Hall, it remained in post-production for years "due to Pennebaker's inability to achieve an adequate soundtrack mix". Bowie, having abandoned the Ziggy Stardust character and moved on, was less than responsive to the filmmakers' requests for his post-production input, later saying that Ziggy Stardust "was something that I couldn't look at for years...I was so fed up with [Ziggy]." By the early 1980s, Bowie had overcome his reluctance enough to consider the film a "funny film" due to his Ziggy-era style of dress, and to work with Tony Visconti on remixing the soundtrack, saying "I don't know what I was on when I did it the first time".
Jeff Beck accepted an invitation to appear with the band, without knowing the show would be filmed. He played guitar on three songs, two of them forming a medley. Beck appeared in the version of the film shown on ABC-TV in 1974, but was removed from the final cut of the film at his own request, with the three songs on which he played being cut from the film. Sources have variously said that Beck was not happy with his performance and/or his clothes, and that he was concerned about possible harm to his image from appearing in a glam rock film.
After completing the film, the filmmakers arranged some screenings of a 16 mm version, mostly in American college towns, but did not release the film to theatres. In an effort to recoup some of the sizable production costs, the film was leased to ABC-TV, which broadcast a shortened 60-minute version of the film to U.S. audiences on 25 October 1974, as an episode of the network's regular series In Concert.
Pennebaker has said that he had difficulty finding a distributor for the Ziggy Stardust film, which was necessary because RCA had commissioned the film as a short product test with no plans to distribute it, and Pennebaker at that time lacked the knowledge or ability to distribute the film himself. According to Pennebaker, distributors disliked handling this type of film, and changes in the distribution system had made it more difficult to get an independent film into theaters.
The full 90-minute, 35 mm film finally made its world premiere on 31 August 1979 at the Edinburgh Film Festival. In 1983, it was released to theatres worldwide and also to the home video market as Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars: The Motion Picture, coinciding with the release of a live concert soundtrack album entitled Ziggy Stardust: The Motion Picture. Hall wrote that plans for a theatrical release in the late 1980s were cancelled in favor of a "quickie video release". However, the film did play in cinemas in 1984, including on the U.S. midnight movie circuit.
In 1998, a DVD version was first released by Image Entertainment, which did not include any extras. A digitally remastered 30th Anniversary Edition DVD was released by EMI/Virgin in 2003, which featured remixed sound by Tony Visconti that removed some overdubs created for the 1983 version and restored the stereo mix of the audience. The DVD also included extras such as a director's commentary track. The film was also briefly re-released to theatres in 2002, in anticipation of the 2003 DVD release.
On 16 February 2017 a screening of the movie took place at the Hammersmith Apollo, now renamed the Eventim Apollo.
The complete track listing below appears on the 2003 30th Anniversary DVD release. All releases of the film omit the three songs on which guest artist Jeff Beck played just before Bowie's "farewell speech": "The Jean Genie/Love Me Do" and "Round and Round".
- Opening Credits/Intro – Incorporating Beethoven's Ninth Symphony arranged and performed by Wendy Carlos from A Clockwork Orange
- "Hang On to Yourself" (Bowie) from the album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars
- "Ziggy Stardust" (Bowie) from the album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars
- "Watch That Man" (Bowie) from the album Aladdin Sane
- "Wild Eyed Boy from Freecloud" (Bowie) from the album Space Oddity
- "All the Young Dudes" (Bowie) originally penned for Mott the Hoople
- "Oh! You Pretty Things" (Bowie) from the album Hunky Dory
- "Moonage Daydream" (Bowie) from the album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars
- "Changes" (Bowie) from the album Hunky Dory
- "Space Oddity" (Bowie) from the album Space Oddity
- "My Death" (Jacques Brel, Mort Shuman) from the Brel album La Valse à Mille Temps, originally written by Brel as "La Mort" and translated into English by Shuman and Eric Blau
- "Cracked Actor" (Bowie) from the album Aladdin Sane
- "Time" (Bowie) from the album Aladdin Sane
- "The Width of a Circle" (Bowie) from the album The Man Who Sold the World
- Band introduction – Spoken word
- "Let's Spend the Night Together" (Mick Jagger, Keith Richards) from the Bowie album Aladdin Sane, originally performed by The Rolling Stones
- "Suffragette City" (Bowie) from the album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars
- "White Light/White Heat" (Lou Reed) from The Velvet Underground album White Light/White Heat
- Farewell Speech – Spoken word
- "Rock 'n' Roll Suicide" (Bowie) from the album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars
- End Credits – Incorporating Pomp and Circumstance by Edward Elgar
- David Bowie – lead vocals, guitar, mouth harp
- Mick Ronson – lead guitar, vocals
- Trevor Bolder – bass guitar
- Mick 'Woody' Woodmansey – percussion and drums
- Angela Bowie (appears in some scenes, but does not perform)
- Ringo Starr (appears in some scenes, but does not perform)
- Ken Fordham – saxophone and flute
- Brian Wilshaw – saxophone and flute
- Geoffrey MacCormack – backing vocals, percussion
- John Hutchinson – guitar
- Mike Garson – piano, organ, Mellotron
Sound recording (original film, soundtrack album and DVD) mixed by Tony Visconti.
The film has frequently been criticized for its technical defects, including its dark, grainy quality, sloppy framing of shots, and poor audio. At least one reviewer who made these criticisms wrote later that these defects were significantly improved for the 2003 DVD release. Bowie's performance in the film, especially during the first part of the show, has also been criticized as being stiff and lacking in enthusiasm, perhaps due to his loss of interest in his Ziggy persona.
Critical reaction to Pennebaker's inclusion of audience footage and audio has been mixed. Some have observed that it underscores the sense of intimacy between Bowie and his fans (for example, in the audio interaction between artist and audience members during the song "My Death"), defines a new performance space that includes the audience, and creates a cultural time capsule by preserving on film the fashion and style of Bowie concertgoers at that time. Others have complained that the intercutting between audience and stage is distracting and that too much footage of the fans, particularly emotional teenage girls, was included in the finished film.
Likewise, while some praised Pennebaker's inclusion of some backstage scenes or lamented the film's having less backstage material than Dont Look Back. Eleanor Levy of Record Mirror wrote, "Despite the technical defects, what finally spoils the film are the cuts to the 'real' Bowie in his dressing room...Such scenes are intrusive. They interrupt the magic of the performance, break into the illusion and destroy the fantasy. It wasn't David Bowie the people went to see, but the Ziggy persona, and all that went with it." Review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a rating of 73% based on 40 reviews, and an average grade of 6.4/10.
The initial 1983 home video release of the film was popular with viewers, reaching #1 on the UK video charts and #30 on the U.S. videocassette charts. The 2002 theatrical re-release of the film grossed approximately $162,500 domestically.
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...critics of the camera work complain about the lack of framing on Bowie himself....Critics also complain about the poor sound quality and lack of backstage access, something flaunted in Dont Look Back.
- Jacobson, Colin (2003-07-25). "Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars: 30th Anniversary Edition (2003)". dvdmg.com. DVD Movie Guide. Retrieved 2016-01-18.
Picture and sound improvements alone make the 30th anniversary Ziggy a must have[.]
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