Good Clean Near-Pornographic Fun at MOMA’s David Bowie Video Symposium


“Life on Mars,” directed by Mick Rock, 1973

So the first iconic image on display at MOMA’s Monday-night Bowie fiesta is actually our host, Thurston Moore, bent at a 90-degree angle over a tiny podium, regaling us with tales of his own Connecticut-youth exposure to Ziggy Stardust, and admitting that he’d never seen Labyrinth until his young daughter forced him to watch it obsessively. Thurston does his splendid droll baritone Thurston thing, name-checking 85 genres in 15 minutes and saying freaks a lot, before noting that Sonic Youth played “I’m Afraid of Americans” with Bowie at Bowie’s 50th birthday-party thing awhile back, and Thurston remembers thinking how fucked up it would be to be 50, and now he is 50 himself. Anyway, time to watch some deliriously bizarre Bowie videos.

“Life on Mars” and “Heroes” rank high in the just-a-dude-singing-a-song-in-oft-extreme-close-up video genre, David being stunningly beautiful in a vaguely pornographic and definitely synthetic sort of way, as if he had somehow managed to Photoshop himself in real life. But if it’s unintentional comedy the surprisingly large MOMA crowd wanted, it’s “DJ” that gave it to us.

“DJ,” directed by David Mallet, 1979

The shots of Bowie walking through the crowd here are fantastic. Does he know these people? Were they instructed to kiss/fuck with/cajole him? Did they misinterpret the degree to which they were supposed to kiss/fuck with/cajole him? Is this fake awkwardness or real awkwardness? Which would you prefer? And can anyone on earth kick a door down while wearing a gas mask more effeminately? (No, probably, definitely, both, same difference, definitely not.)

“China Girl,” directed by David Mallet & David Bowie, 1983

It’s mesmerizing, watching this video try desperately not to be slightly offensive and ultimately fail, roughly around the time Dave races across town just to toss a bowl of rice in the air. Please skip to 1:15, when he slants his eyes with his fingers and then cracks up in that totally adoring just-casually-joking-around-with-my-beloved cutesy way that does not come naturally to him at all. He also drinks from a juice box.

“The Heart’s Filthy Lesson,” directed by Sam Bayer, 1995

No points for guessing whose audience is being blatantly pandered to here. Take solace, I guess, in the fact that it didn’t work.

Bowie and Bing, together at last

This was not shown, but it’s that time of year.

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