David Bowie – The Berlin Years: 1976 - 1979 (Under Review/Music Video Distributors DVD)
C+ Sound: C+ Extras: C Main Program: B+
Bowie is such an important artist that news of a documentary about what is
possibly his most artistically exceptional period drew such demand by our
fellow critics that we decided to try a first here by having four writers cover
the same title to get different perspectives.
We have struck out overlap, so each successive review is shorter than
everyone thought Bowie would be the next Beatles, but Elton John (until his
press fallout over his sexuality) was the next phenomenon, it did not stop
Bowie from being Bowie. At the time he
did the albums in question, a large number of people were expecting him to
overtake everyone, but his work was bashed instead and the period too easily
dismissed. Now, they know better.
analysis by Kristofer Collins email@example.com:
ain’t Rock’n’roll… Bowie’s right, you
know. His music ain’t Rock’n’roll. No sir, not at all. Perhaps it’s just my nature as a nitpicker, or
my very annoying need to be contrarian, but every time someone tells me Bowie
is their fave rocker the hair on the back of my neck stands up and my hackles
get all hackled. Bowie’s music is not Rock’n’roll.
me wrong, I love the guy’s tunes, at least the music he released up to and
including Scary Monsters and Super Creeps, everything after that is pretty
much a wash, but hey, if you had a run of great records like Bowie’s you’re
allowed to spend the next three decades turning out pabulum. It’s alright. After all, guy made Aladdin Sane, Hunky Dory,
and Low. Make those albums and I can forgive you Tin
to the point - David Bowie has never made a Rock’n’roll record. Sure, he’s made records that approximate Rock,
like Ziggy Stardust and Pin-Ups, but these records are about as
close to true Rock as Broadway’s Rent.
I’m not disparaging those albums, well
maybe Rent, (just to be clear,
Bowie’s work is soooo much better than Rent,
it’s simply the intent that is similar) but those are records about the
experience of Rock, they’re about how an audience receives Rock, and as such
they make use of Rock’n’roll clichés such as Rocker as new Messiah (Ziggy) and
Rock as nostalgia (Pin-Ups). What sells those records as a true Rock
experience more than anything Bowie does is Mick Ronson’s dirty, sweet garage-y
guitar. Everything else screams theatre,
everything else is intellectual and meta.
last thing Rock’n’roll can be considered is intellectual.
latest installment of Under Review to hit our fair shores, one of our heroes,
the critic who looks like he just came from a marathon session down the pub
watching the Tour de France, says it outright, “I never bought the characters.”
And why should he or anyone else really,
buy into the whole Derrida pantomime that Bowie was prone to in those days.
Luckily, Bowie made The Man Who Fell to
Earth (reviewed on DVD elsewhere on this site) prior to recording the
Berlin trilogy and he seemed to have gotten all of that cracked actor nonsense
out of his system so when he got into the studio with Eno and Visconti, the
music he made was substantially different, more abstract and more personal all
at the same time.
playing a character on those records, not copping some pose. Bowie just got down to the business of busting
out tunes that turned him on. It was the
first time in his career that he made music that wasn’t reflecting some trend
with proven sales (the Philly Soul of Young Americans, the Gene Vincent meets
T.Rex of Ziggy, the folk-pop of Hunky Dory, the heavy Prog of The Man Who Sold
the World). There’s a lot to be said
about the music of Eno, Kraftwerk, Can, and Harmonia, all sources for the sound
on the Berlin records, but you cannot seriously make the argument that suburban
American kids with too much discretionary cash loved layin’ down the bucks for
records was a big risk for Bowie, bigger than trawling for transvestites with
Lou Reed, bigger even than shaking Iggy Pop’s hand, ugh the places Iggy’s hand
has been, but it was a gamble that paid off. The music, particularly of Low and Heroes, is routinely considered visionary. Philip Glass turned those tunes into a symphony
and the book series 33 1/3 chose Low as the Bowie album worthy of an entire
book. And now this DVD.
Wayne Wise www.wayne-wise.com
in the early 80’s I bought my first car.
It was a used 1977 Ford Granada, a primer gray boat that I drove for
years until it fell apart out from under me.
It had an 8-track player factory installed in the dash. Now, by then I wasn’t really an 8-track fan
and quickly installed a cassette deck.
What was cool about this particular 8-track player was the tape that the
previous owner had left behind.
was the first full length David Bowie album I ever heard. I wasn’t a complete stranger to Bowie. I had owned the singles of Rebel, Rebel and Fame. But I was just young
enough to have missed the height of his Glam era success and somehow never
managed to pick up an album or to have any friends who did. By the time of the Granada Bowie was in his Let’s Dance phase, and while I kind of
liked the single I wasn’t really drawn to explore his work any further. But a free 8-track is a free 8-track, so I
blew me away. I certainly didn’t expect
and wasn’t prepared for the soundscape Heroes offered. It came at a good time for me. I was growing very tired of what I was
hearing on the radio and was desperately looking for something new (new to me
anyway, Heroes was several years old
by the time I heard it). Bowie’s
experimentation fit the bill nicely.
the time I had no idea what was going on in Bowie’s life when Heroes was made, or that it was the
middle album of a trilogy recorded in Berlin (Low and Lodger were the
other two). Over the years, as I became
more acquainted with Bowie and his body of work the pieces began to come
David Bowie Under Review 1976
1979: The Berlin Trilogy tells the whole story. After the insane success of the Ziggy
Stardust era the Golden Age of Glam was fading (KISS not withstanding). Bowie felt a need to retire from the
intensity of the public eye as well as to explore other musical directions. He went to Berlin to live and work. While there he co-wrote and produced two
albums with Iggy Pop (going as far as being a member of Iggy’s touring band in
an effort to step into the background).
He also began working with Brian Eno.
Eno had worked with the Glam/Lounge band Roxy Music and then moved on to
solo work. The creative dynamic between
Bowie and Eno proved to be the creative impetus for the Berlin trilogy of
DVD covers the specifics far better than I can here. It is well written and extensive, with a lot
of archival footage. It provides
historical context for the music as well as giving insight into the specific
recordings and the process by which they were created. An essential for Bowie fans.
installment of the Under Review series takes as its subject what many critics
along with this writer consider to be one of Bowie’s most creative and overlooked
periods, the so called “Berlin Trilogy.”
This trilogy consists of three albums, Heroes, Low, and Lodger, Bowie released at a time when
he seen all his early characters to their logical conclusion, was visibly
wracked by drug abuse, and had the whole world wondering what he could possibly
Bowie did do next still seems shocking and fresh almost thirty years on. This is not to say that these albums were the
first to favor electronics over organic instruments, or that these albums are
even the best examples of earlier electronic music. However, there is something that these
albums, Low and Heroes in particular, have that really sets them apart and makes
them stand out not only in the Bowie catalog but also within the
experimental/electronic genres. Although
the synths used sound primitive and sometimes dated, there is still something
that makes these albums seem as though they had landed on earth no longer ago
than yesterday. The second side of Low still baffles and intrigues me
after years of listenings. And then,
aside from the more dissonant/symphonic material, Bowie released songs like Sound and Vision and Heroes which stand there own as some of
the best pop songs ever written.
been influenced by many things and one of them was the work of Stanley Kubrick,
which is obvious as early as Space Oddity,
with its 2001: A Space Odyssey
influence. Dr. Strangelove & A
Clockwork Orange also figured prominently, giving Bowie five years from Clockwork to the release of The Man Who Fell To Earth to explore
the themes musically and visually on stage without actually having to himself
enter the film realm. When he did with
the great director Nicolas Roeg in peak form, he could no longer claim, feign
or have ironic, isolated distance. The Berlin Years are the results of the
payoff of that journey, with Low an
album of music he made for Earth thinking they would need a score from him, but
DVD from the ever-prolific Under Review
series is again very thorough about the period, including his send-up of
fascism being interpreted as an embracing of some kind. If this is not Rock Music, it is the most
Rock-oriented experimental mainstream work one could imagine from the time and
its influence informed everything from New Wave (along with Glam and early
bands taking advantage of that, like New Zealand’s Split Enz) and there is the
added bonus of Bowie becoming an early innovator of what we now know as Music
Video since the taste of cinema beyond concert films was just too much,
especially when stimulated by Roeg.
is a must-see, chronicles well the period and there is a Plastic Years DVD
companion we will cover soon.
Remarkably, there is little in the way of analysis of Bowie on disc, so
it is good to see when someone set out to tackle the subject, they did it so