The path from the concert hall to the film set is littered with Madonnas and Jovis who wrongly believed that just because they can hold a note, they can also carry a movie. But David Bowie managed to step in front of the camera with grace and charisma, playing a variety of characters for filmmakers as diverse as Christopher Nolan and Nicolas Roeg, in films as divisive as ‘Basquiat’ and ‘The Last Temptation of Christ’. By no means were all his cinematic roles accomplishments, but every one was, at the very least, interesting. Here’s a guide to each of his forays into acting…
The Man Who Fell To Earth (1976)
Plot: An extraterrestrial visits Earth. Gets hooked on sex, booze and daytime TV.
Bowie’s Role: As Thomas “Tommy” Jerome Newton, Bowie plays the titular ‘man’, patenting his alien technology on Earth in order to make him the billions of dollars he needs to construct a machine to transport water back to his dying home planet. While on the little blue planet he begins a destructive relationship with a hotel porter named Mary Lou.
Best moment: Tommy removes his contact lenses and reveals his true identity to an apoplectic Mary Lou. Those familiar with Bowie’s work would probably simply shrug at any revelation of Bowie actually being from another planet.
Worst moment: A toss-up between the flashbacks to Newton’s home planet, complete with onesie wearing family, and Rip Torn making the beast with two backs. Best viewed without contacts.
Classic Bowie line: “We’d have probably done the same to you, if you’d come ’round our place.”
Bowie Scale: 5 out of 5
The Hunger (1983)
Plot: A vampire couple eat and fuck their way around New York.
Bowie’s Role: As John Blaylock, Bowie is one half of the undead coupling who quickly learns that his immortality doesn’t include eternal youth. Once he begins to rapidly age, John visits Dr. Sarah Roberts (Susan Sarandon) and asks for help to curb the ageing process.
Best Moment: Blaylock goes from 30 to 80 in under two hours, waiting for a doctor’s appointment. Insert National Health Service joke here.
Worst Moment: John screaming at his evil vamp lover Miriam backed by the endless synth mood music.
Classic Bowie Line: “I’m a young man. Do you understand? I’m a young man.”
Bowie Scale: 4
Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence (1983)
Plot: Yuletide fun and frolics in a Japanese Prisoner of War camp. Minus the fun and frolics.
Bowie’s Role: As Maj. Jack ‘Strafers’ Celliers, Bowie is sent to a POW camp inhabited by Tom Conti’s Mr. Lawrence. There, Celliers begins a homoerotic relationship with the camp’s commandant while flipping the bird to his captors rules and regulations. Bowie’s ‘Prestige’ director, Christopher Nolan recently claimed this film was “tailor made” for the actor/musicians talents.
Best Moment: Celliers defiantly crosses the camp and places two kisses on either side of the brutal soldier’s face.
Worst Moment: None.
Classic Bowie Line: “My past is my business.”
Bowie Scale: 5
Absolute Beginners (1986)
Plot: A host of people with ludicrous names attempt to solve racism through dance.
Bowie’s Role: As Vendice Partners(?!), Bowie is an ad exec trying to assist/exploit the simpleton hero, Colin, who dreams of making it big despite having one of those faces you’d love to put a Doc Martin through.
Best Moment: The title song.
Worst Moment: Everything else.
Classic Bowie Line: “We don’t sell things, we sell dreams.”
Bowie Scale: 1 Swinton
Plot: The world’s worst older sister inadvertently lets a man with improbable hair babysit her brother for 13 hours.
Bowie’s Role: As Jareth the Goblin King, Bowie sticks a jailbait Jennifer Connelly in an M.C Escher painting and minces around with muppets. He also occasionally turns into an owl.
Best Moment: David dances a magic dance. Actually this may qualify as the worst moment…
Worst Moment: The omnipresent trouser bulge of Bowie. Actually this might qualify as the best…
Classic Line: “I am exhausted from living up to your expectations.”
Bowie Scale: 3
Plot: Biopic chronicling Basquiat’s meteoric rise to fame and subsequent friendship with a ‘hol.
Bowie’s Role: As Andy Warhol, Bowie plays the mentor credited with bringing the Brooklyn graffiti artist to the masses, ultimately becoming one of Basquait’s only friends once fame takes hold. Having frequented the same parties as the “famous for 15 minutes” painter, Bowie brings a warmth to Warhol rarely seen on screen.
Best Moment: Andy receives a helmet wig from Basquiat, pops it on his noggin and delivers a trademark world weary sigh.
Worst Moment: The portrayal treads a thin line between character and caricature. But some would argue, so did Andy.
Classic Bowie Line: “Not piss paint, Jean, oxidation art.”
Bowie Scale: 3
The Prestige (2006)
Plot: Two warring magicians battle to see who has the biggest wand.
Bowie’s Role: As Nikola Tesla, Bowie gives Hugh Jackman’s conjurer a magic trick like no other, SPOILER, the ability to replicate anything, including black cats and top hats. His invention comes with an instruction manual comprising solely of sinister warnings against actually using the damn thing.
Best Moment: Tesla’s entrance, walking through the equivalent of a giant plasma ball without a single moustache hair out of place.
Worst Moment: For animal lovers it’ll be Tesla putting a few thousand volts through a frightened kitty.
Classic Bowie Line: “Exact science, Mr Angier, is not an exact science.”
Bowie Scale: 4
And the best of his cameos…
Not just Bowie’s best cameo, but arguably the greatest cameo in cinema history. If you ever need a man to judge a walk-off between two intellectually challenged male models, Bowie will be of service.
Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (1992)
An oddity that needs rectifying is that Davids Bowie and Lynch haven’t collaborated more. But the two came together for the latter’s big screen ‘Twin Peaks’ effort with the former briefly playing the babbling, confused “long lost Philip Jeffries”.
Legend has it that Bowie just happened to be on holiday where Graham Chapman and company were filming their sea-set comedy. So they put a shark fin on his back and invited him on set for a blink and you’ll miss him cameo.
The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)
It’s strange to see David Bowie championing order and normalcy but as Pontius Pilate Vs Jesus H he’s all about calling the messiah out for being a very naughty revolutionist. Forever fashionable, Bowie even rocks a nice shit brown robe/toga combo.
SpongeBob SquarePants (2007)
Bowie lends his voice to the part of his Lord Royal Highness, or L.R.H. to his friends, the ruler of Atlantis and a man very protective over ancient bubbles. Like in Labyrinth, Bowie’s brain is visible, only this time not pulsating through his trousers.