Thursday, December 15, 2011

How Did He Survive So Long To Get So Cool? Best Of Bowie Video Collection!

The Good: A perfect video, Some great music, Wonderful creativity
The Bad: Missing "Changes?!" Many of the early videos are disappointing
The Basics: With a perfect video and a great deal of musical video stories, Best Of Bowie DVD is a set anyone with appreciation for the music video may appreciate.

The Best Of Bowie DVD was definitely my partner's idea. My partner thinks David Bowie is imaginative and an artist who has aged exceptionally well. Had it not been for the recent acquisition of this DVD, I probably never would have seen most of these videos. In the end, I think that would have been rather unfortunate. Clocking in at over four hours, this two-disc set certainly takes the viewer on a ride.

The Best Of Bowie is a collection of 47 music videos spanning almost thirty years of David Bowie's career. Starting in 1972 with a series of television spots - many of which never aired - and progressing through the early years of music videos to the honing of the video as an art form, this is a pretty comprehensive collection of the music and image of David Bowie. And he definitely has gotten cooler with age.

The problem with the video collection is essentially bound to the first disc. Most all of the videos before 1979 are simply collections of Bowie singing to a camera. The first five videos, especially, show a complete neglect for the video medium. Basically, they are simply a chance to see the man who sings the songs the listener might enjoy. The 1972 sessions from the BBC are devoid of any insight into the music and instead have a chance to see Bowie wearing a ridiculous green outfit and singing.

But beyond the early videos, which are more like impromptu concerts, the presentations are decent. The video for "Young American," which is essentially Bowie and back-up singing to several cameras, illustrates well Bowie's natural charisma and his knack for presentation. That's track eleven. And by that point, videos are changing. By track 16 ("D.J."), his videos are telling a story and it's nice to see that when he begins this trend, he does not let up.

At the point that the videos begin being intriguing, like the "Gods Must Be Crazy" style story for the video to "Let's Dance," the viewer begins to wonder where "Changes" is. Perhaps David Bowie's most distinctive and enduring single is noticeably missing from the video collection. I find it hard to believe, given the quality of such videos as "Five Years" and "Drive-In Saturday" that something could not be whipped up. It's disappointing that something otherwise so definitive would be missing this essential piece.

David Bowie's music is a wonderful collection of rock, which changes into pop in the '80s, which evolves into angsty almost Industrial music in the early '90s and finishes as Bowie's reinvention of pop-rock as an art. His music and outfits change with the time going from outrageously flashy in the 70s and 80s to more reserved and downright middle age sexy in the 90s. This collection is an excellent way to see his wardrobe and persona evolve.

And it is on the second disc that Bowie's potential is reached. I'm not talking so much about his "Labyrinth" inspired duo ("Underground" and "Time Will Crawl"), where they apparently could only get the consent of one muppet to appear. No, I refer to the stories Bowie tells using his videos and music. The perfect example is "They Say Jump" where Bowie tells a story of virtual reality and the torment in and out of it of a businessman. His videos here are clever, use the music perfectly and tell stories. They become the best of what music videos may be.

Indeed, David Bowie has a perfect video and it is astonishing that it does not appear in the top three of more music video reviewers' lists. It is called "Miracle Goodnight." The song is an ethereal, difficult to describe piece about the feeling at the end of a perfect night when it is time to say good-by to one's lover. The video is an amazing conglomeration of artistic dancers, strippers, a flamboyant playboy who does not touch the nearly naked women writhing all about him, gods and men. It's a clever series of images that both compliment and defy the song, whose main refrain is "nobody's dancing." It has incredible energy and it does perfectly what a music video ought to do: create a piece of art distinctive from the music that expresses the essence of the song. The first time I saw the video, it enticed me, made me laugh and compelled me to watch it three more times immediately. It has a powerful effect and is dramatically distinctive.

And it's not like blew it out creatively; after that he has the downright creepy "The Heart's Filthy Lesson" and the strange "Strangers When We Meet" from his Industrial phase. It's strange to see videos that are more reminiscent of Nine Inch Nails than David Bowie, but he is actually pioneering this style, if one checks the dates. And he manages to return to clever popularity for a more wide audience even further along with the clever commentary on gun violence "I'm Afraid of Americans" (which features Trent Reznor of NIN). In the penultimate video, he acknowledges his age in a wonderful way with a video entitled "Thursday's Child."

"Thursday's Child" is the perfect example of Bowie's evolution. He plays a man singing to himself in the mirror when his somewhat estranged wife comes to wash up beside him. He sees the younger versions of themselves in the mirror and the interaction he has between his past and present is an intriguing one. There are so many ways to interpret the video and his older self embracing his wife's younger self seems to suggest he can accept his own aging, but not hers.

The magic of Bowie's later videos is that they may be interpreted many ways and they weave together meaningful and intriguing stories that make the viewer want to see them and watch them again. So, unlike most music videos, the bulk of videos presented here are not ones that the viewer will get tired of easily. That kind of diversity is always welcome. And if there is one thing Bowie excels at throughout this video time capsule, it is being a diverse personality.

A perfect video earns this collection an entire point.

For other David Bowie reviews, please be sure to visit my reviews of:
The Man Who Sold The World
Hunkey Dory
The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars
Aladdin Sane
Diamond Dogs
Christiane F. Soundtrack
Let's Dance
Labyrinth Soundtrack
Never Let Me Down
Eart hl i ng
Best Of Bowie (1 Disc version)
The Best Of Bowie (2 Disc version)


For other video reviews, please be sure to visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2011, 2003 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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