On July 3rd, 1973, for the final time, David Bowie assumed the moniker of the intergalactic space traveler, Ziggy Stardust. The embodiment of the mid-twentieth century’s infatuation with the extraterrestrial, Ziggy Stardust and his Spiders from Mars —percussionist Mick “Woody” Woodman, bass guitarist Trevor Bolder, and lead guitarist Mick Ronson — took the stage at the Hammersmith Odeon in London. In capturing Bowie and his seismic presence, inventive direct cinema filmmaker, D.A. Pennebaker implemented his light camera form of documentary filmmaking. Pennebaker’s multiple handheld camera positions non-invasively capture the event in its entirety, driven by authenticity and imperfections—the end result is the Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars concert film.
Before he takes the stage, we see Bowie in his green room. He stares at himself in the mirror, smiling at his reflection, licking his teeth. His red-dyed hair stands voluminously on his head—the now universally recognizable red and blue bolt across his right eye has been freshly painted. Bowie’s wife, Angie, wishes him luck, questioning his choice of lipstick. He responds with irony on his vocal cords, “You’re just a girl, what do you know about makeup.” Bowie’s charm is his genuine flamboyancy. In his gender-transcending wardrobe, lyrics, and personal styling, he has set the standard of acceptance in the popular music sphere—bringing forth a subculture through which youths of the time could unify. Outside of the theater, these devout fans have dressed themselves akin to the spaceman. Tonight, Ziggy Stardust is their guide as they cross a cultural threshold.
The collection of camera perspectives is predominantly adrift in the audience—swaying in the motions of the crowd’s fanaticism. Images pull in and out of focus; spaces within the frame are exposed to the pseudo-cosmic lights—blown out and then toned back in as the decorative concert lighting changes in choreography with chord progressions. While the camera’s operation—shift of position, rotation of the focus ring, and acclimation to lighting—is very much a prominent visual presence, invisible sequencing edits weave the seventeen song set-list succinctly
In the final minutes, Bowie sincerely thanks the fans, “Everybody, this has been one of the greatest tours of our lives… 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.” Fans scream in disappointment, but, Ziggy Stardust has stood beside them for long enough. The band closes with “Rock ‘N’ Roll Suicide,” the end of Ziggy Stardust—his final words, “Thank you very much, bye-bye, we love you.” This is an era in music, showmanship, and culture to be cherished—as Bowie is a musician, performer, and icon of style to whom we are forever indebted. For a fan of music, for a fan of film: Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (1973) is a must watch.
Images Via, MAINMAN/PENNEBAKER / THE KOBAL COLLECTION and BBC