Posted on Monday, January 11th, 2016 by Jacob Hall
It is 2004 and Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars has just convinced a depressed, confused and impossibly lonely high school student to not take his own life. It is 2015 and “Heroes” blasts through the speakers as the same man, now older and happier and glad to be alive, joins the love of his life on the dance floor for their first dance as husband and wife.
The soundtrack to the decade between these two events in my life is defined by David Bowie, the most remarkable performer of the 20th century and an icon who cannot be summed with any kind of ease. He was a musician and an actor, an artist and an entertainer, a sinner and a saint, otherworldly but knowable. By listening to his music and watching him on screen, I couldn’t help but feel like I knew him. Like so many others, I felt I could see through his mystique and this alien, this seemingly mystical presence, was the friend I needed. I listened to him and couldn’t help but feel like he was listening back.
David Bowie has passed away at the age of 69, leaving behind a couple dozen incredible albums, enough amazing stories to fill a few thick books, and a surprising film career that was just as malleable and unpredictable as his discography. There’s no way of knowing how many lives he saved, but I can count at least one. The least I can do in return is pay tribute to his contributions to the world of film, of which there are more than you may realize.
If you make a pilgrimage over to David Bowie’s IMDB page, you’ll discover that his music was featured in 452 films and television shows. That isn’t just a testament to his popularity – it’s a testament to his versatility. Much has been written over the years about how Bowie never stopped evolving, slowly transforming from persona to persona, shifting genres and styles as he saw fit. This means there’s a Bowie song for everyone, from the cheeky glam rock of The Man Who Sold the World to the club-friendly Let’s Dance. How one man could record the chilly, shattering Station to Station and the playful, catty Hunky Dory is beyond the imagination of mere mortals. And since there’s a Bowie song for everyone, there’s a Bowie song for every movie. It’s hard to think of a movie that has utilized his music that didn’t find itself instantly climbing a few rungs on the “cool” ladder.
Remembering David Bowie As a Movie Soundtrack
I feel almost guilty that the first example that comes to my mind of Bowie’s music in the movies isn’t some obscure film or left field choice – it’s the use of “Cat People” in Inglourious Basterds. Quentin Tarantino’s World War II announces itself as a fantasy early on, but the anachronistic use of an ’80s pop song during its final chapter seals the deal. Bowie’s one-of-a-kind voice, mysterious and sexy and brimming with tension, makes for an ideal quiet before the storm. “I’ve been putting out the fire with gasoline,” he croons as our heroine plans to decimate the leaders of the Nazi regime (and end the war) with a raging inferno.
Everyone is going to have their favorite Bowie needle drop. Everyone is going to have that one movie scene that stands out to them because one of his songs breathed life into it. Off the top of my head, I recall the chilling use of “Ziggy Stardust” in Chronicle. I love how “Moonage Daydream” provides a universe worth of awe and wonder in Guardians of the Galaxy. I can’t get the offbeat and triumphant placement of “Queen Bitch” over the end credits of The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou out of my head.
I can’t forget how “Under Pressure,” his rightfully celebrated collaboration with Queen, was the outlet for intense emotional catharsis at the end of Bobcat Goldthwait’s dark comedy gem World’s Greatest Dad, the beacon through which the movie cleansed its dark soul and found the light.