I’ve given myself over to viewing many rock documentaries out there and have found most of them come up lacking. Taking into account that most of these are unauthorized as well as packed full of interviews with so-called “rock critics” or “rock historians” as well as B-players in the history of the various musical acts, and I usually find myself hard-pressed to like something about it.
David Bowie: Inside David Bowie and the Spiders 1969-1972 is a bit better than some, but definitely not at the top of the pile when it comes to this sort of “rockumentary.”
Right off, I found the structure to be not all that great. It doesn’t have any sort of introduction that sets the tone for what this is but goes right into dissecting songs during this period of David Bowie’s career as a musician. However, rather than being a critical review, it’s light on the criticism and more on giving the perspective of what made these songs distinctive. There are interviews with rock critics & historians such as radio personality Malcolm Dome and journalist Jonathan Wingate. Also present are musicians such as Woody Woodmansey who played drums on Spiders From Mars, Trevor Bolder who was the bass player on Spiders from Mars, and Record Producer Pop Williams.
There’s no chronological order to the presentation of the songs, however. David Bowie: Inside David Bowie and the Spiders 1969-1972 starts with Space Oddity which was released in 1969 although the promotional video for it wasn’t made until 1972. Only a portion of this video is shown and I would have liked to have seen the whole thing. Those interviewed talk about what was different about it at the time in a musical sense. It was so different for Bowie that his usual producer didn’t want anything to do with it so Elton John’s producer was brought in.
The gaggle of talking heads then talks about how the album Hunky Dory was really the album that established him as a serious musical artist. It included Changes in which Bowie adopted his somewhat androgynous look in the promotional video. Oh! You Pretty Things is next to be dissected followed by Life on Mars. Awaken, Queen /3itch, Starman, John I’m Only Dancing, and The Jean Genie.
There are also video clips from specials that showed Bowie backstage during his performances, changing costumes. There is quite a bit of time focused on Rick Wakeman (who would go on to be a founding member of Yes) and the effect of his keyboards on the album Hunky Dory.
The sound on the DVD isn’t that good. It’s uneven at timed being muddy and hard to understand. It didn’t matter whether it was an interview or a snippet of music, it could all get muddy. The only thing that seemed to be easy to hear were the original interviews. The same was true of the picture. Where it was the original video it was fine. Where it was archival footage it was generally desperately in need of restoration.
While David Bowie: Inside David Bowie and the Spiders 1969-1972 isn’t the worst of the “rockumentaries” I’ve viewed it’s also far from the best. There are some good moments and some information that will be interesting to hardcore Bowie fans or those interested in soaking up all they can about the legend. The other plus is that there is actual Bowie music in it and footage. However, there’s too much missing from this that could be talked about. The potential existed for much more depth in this era in Bowie’s musical development and it’s missed out on. Couple that with the sound and video issues, and I’d only recommend viewing it to a select few. Even those interested in David Bowie: Inside David Bowie and the Spiders 1969-1972 should only rent it rather than buying it. You won’t want to see it a second time.
Which ones would be the best?
Anything where they really work with the artist and those close to him. Usually those are authorized. When you see unauthorized, it’s generally not going to have great content.