bowie movies

Remembering David Bowie As a Movie Star

Bowie’s list of acting credits isn’t nearly as long, but this is a quality over quantity situation if there ever was one. Just as he did with his music, he never found a comfortable place and stayed there. Each of his film roles couldn’t be more different from the others. Here’s a man who wouldn’t stop challenging himself. Here’s a performer who would push and push until he found something you haven’t seen before.

In The Man Who Fell to Earth, Bowie played an alien who visits Earth to save his dying people and succumbs to human desires. You will not find a more raw and desperate portrayal of loneliness, guilt and desperation. Bowie has always felt otherworldly, like he’s a visitor from beyond, and it is here that he gives that persona depth. It’s lonely out in space, but it’s lonely down on Earth, too.

But Bowie was unafraid of being silly. Like many of the best humans of his generation, he was perfectly comfortable interacting with creatures that were created by Jim Henson’s workshop and his performance in Labyrinth is a thing of surreal delight.

And of course Bowie played a vampire in The Hunger. There was no way he was not going to play a vampire at some point.

And just when you thought he’d always be weird, that he’d always play fantastical and strange on screen, you watched him strip away all theatrics and play Nikola Tesla in Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige. What’s remarkable about this performance is how stripped down it is. He could have marched into this movie with swagger and stolen the spotlight, but he’s a gracious performer, providing Hugh Jackman with capable support and graciously remaining at the fringes of the movie.

He also turned in a similarly subdued performance for Martin Scorsese, playing Pontius Pilate in The Last Temptation of Christ as a soft-spoken, reasonable bureaucrat.

And yes, he also has the absolute best scene in Ricky Gervais’ Extras, playing himself and having a grand ‘ol time.

For several generations of teenagers, David Bowie was a lifeline. For several generation of adults, he was an artist worthy of examination. For several generations of filmmakers, he was an inspiration and a muse. The internet has been awash in stories about his basic goodness, about how, underneath the pop star glamor, Bowie was a gentleman, a scholar, a loyal friend, an excellent husband and father. I cannot speak to that (although I’m certainly glad to hear it), but I can say that he was many things to me. A best friend from another planet. A counselor filled with wisdom. A rebel leader who encouraged the right shade of mischief. A walking reminder that the opinions of other people will never matter as much as your opinion of yourself. Be happy. Don’t be afraid to dance. Don’t be afraid to experiment. You too can be an alien and a Roman leader and a scientist and a vampire.

David Bowie lives on through his music. David Bowie lives in through our movies. David Bowie lives on because I am alive and because he saved my life. Rest in peace, you crazy spaceman, you Thin White Duke, you Goblin King, you explorer of the unknown. We’ll hear you on the radio. We’ll see you in the movies. You’re gone, but you aren’t going anywhere.

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