David Bowie Is offers up dozens of sentence-completing phrases to the quasi-fragment that serves as its title, but the most helpful/descriptive never gets appended: How about David Bowie Is Not in This Movie, Really, as It’s Basically a Pleasant Survey of a Traveling Museum Exhibit of Bowie’s Archives With an Emphasis on Those Glorious Costumes, Although We Must Admit That Their Talismanic Qualities Are Diminished Somewhat When the Exhibit Is Mediated Through This Documentary, Because Nobody Will Ever Say, “I Can’t Believe I’m Looking at Actual Clothes David Bowie Actually Wore — On a Screen!”
If you accept what David Bowie Is is, there are revelations to be had, here, especially in early photos of the star-to-be: At 16, he looks like he already had his cosmic confidence — and a team of stylists. Hanif Kureishi and Pulp’s Jarvis Cocker testify to Bowie’s cultural power, to the license his experiments in style and gender afforded his fans, and lots of Brit exhibit-visitors speak about Bowie changing their lives: If he could don a space-rainbow jumpsuit and make moon-eyes at Mick Ronson on Top of the Pops, why should blokes from Barnsley have to go into the civil service?
The thrilling stuff: You’ll glimpse Bowie’s handwritten lyrics for “Starman” and “Rebel Rebel,” his storyboards and concept art for films and tour sets and videos. Less so: The team behind the exhibition will chat with practiced awe about the challenge of capturing the significance of Bowie’s Berlin period in an immersive/instructive gallery space.
Don’t expect much insight into the music itself. And don’t expect after to feel like you were there — if museum exhibitions had DVD extras, this would be one.