Saturday, May 05, 2007


Cracked Actor

I love the internet. A post on mefi points out that "Cracked Actor," an early seventies BBC documentary about David Bowie is available in its entirety on YouTube. If you haven't seen it before, and have any interest in Bowie at all, you should.

I saw "Cracked Actor" years ago, and it really wormed its way into my head. The filmmakers in question followed Bowie for a while during the Diamond Dogs tour, just after he'd killed off Ziggy Stardust. As the Wikipedia entry linked above mentions, you can clearly see the effects of the cocaine Bowie was then taking, as well as appearances by his manager and personal assistant, to say nothing of hair dresser, wife, band members, et cetera.

But what really stuck with me wasn't really the stuff with Bowie at all, but the interviews with all of his young American fans. My reactions to seeing all of those painted Bowie fans more than thirty years ago ended up in the mouth of Alice Fell in End of the Century. The book's not out until late next year, but here's the relevant bits, if anyone's interested.
Bowie was still blaring from the stereo, talking about time, who waited in the wings, speaking of senseless things. Stillman was still silent, lost in memory.

“You know, I saw a documentary once,” Alice said, filling the silence. “About Bowie. It was on cable or PBS or something. There was all this footage of kids going to one of his concerts in America back in the early seventies, or hanging out in their bedrooms talking to the camera about how Bowie was god. And when I saw it, I couldn’t help but notice how many of those kids were clearly gay. And just loving it, you know? That Bowie was up on stage, being all of these different people, blurring the lines between genders and stuff like that. You know? You could see it in those kids’ eyes, that they thought the long hard battle was over, and that from that point on, they could be anything they wanted to be. Homo superior or whatever, right? But then, what happened? Just a few years later, Bowie moved on to be some other character altogether, and punk came along, and metal. Don’t get me wrong, I love punk, but maybe it wasn’t as... accepting of gay kids as the whole glam thing had been. And metal? Forget about it.”

Alice was silent for a moment, thinking back to those eager, hopeful faces. They’d be the age her mother was now, she figured. She wondered what had become of them.

“Anyway. I just think about those kids, sometimes. Thinking that the future was here, and that they didn’t have to be afraid anymore. What must it have been like, when they realized that they were wrong, and it was just like it had always been?”

Stillman glanced at her, but didn’t say a word. They continued on up the motorway, finally leaving London behind.
In the interest of full disclosure, after reading the above passage my editor expressed surprise that it had been written by a drunken lout like me. Your mileage may vary...

I had so many dreams, I had so many breakthroughs...

Actually I don't think punk was as bleak as Alice makes out. I did, after all, produce the Tom Robinson Band, not to mention Jayne County. But I do think that your editor needs a good whack with a clue-by-four.
Don't be so hard on him, Cheryl. He was saying it in jest, and I'm quoting him out of context.

But yeah, I think that the punk scene was more nuanced than Alice suggests, but I oversimplified things to put them into an eighteen year old American's mouth. And, to be fair, those were my own impressions when I first saw Cracked Actor, years ago.
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