Posts Tagged 'David Bowie'

David Bowie Low

So we lost Lemmy, David Bowie and Alan Rickman in the space of a month, which is monumentally depressing. As is the general outpouring of emotion surrounding each and all of their deaths. Some of it has been heartfelt, some of it poetic, some random and raw – all demonstrating that it’s a mess whichever way you look at it. But it is still a thing and, for this site, it’s a Sci-Fi thing that really should be captured and marked in some cathartic way.

While we could wax lyrical about Bowie’s outsider/otherworldly influence, or Lemmy’s part in The Toxic Avenger series or even Rickman’s voicing of Marvin in the otherwise terrible Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, it’s probably best to keep simple. So, in honour of the collective and ‘best in class’ influence these three have had on this site, let’s consider their outputs within the genre.

Chronological order gives us Bowie first in Nicolas Roeg’s The Man Who Fell To Earth (1976). An extraordinary feature that tempered the experimentation of Roeg’s earlier work, such as Performance (1970), with a much stronger narrative structure. Bowie turns in a convincing performance, although it could be argued that the division between the Thomas Jerome Newton character and his then stage persona didn’t take much of an stretch. That said, the scenes of an ailing alien world pitted against the senseless fear and cruelty of humanity still leaves a unique and uneasy taste. Honourable mention has to also be given to Bowie’s portrayal of Nikola Tesla in Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige (2006).

Next up Lemmy, although his Sci-Fi filmic work offers little to choose from – that is if you draw a demarcating line through his roles in more than one Troma Entertainment scholck horror. It falls then to his water taxi driver cameo in Richard Stanley’s Hardware (1990) as the best suited Sci-Fi outing for Motorhead’s formidable front man.

Last, but by no means least, Alan Rickman. Surprisingly, for a thespian so associated with the fantastical, his body of work is actually pretty light on pure Sci-Fi. Thankfully, 1999 saw the release of Dean Parisot’s wonderfully crafted Galaxy Quest,. In this, Rickman’s jaded, frustrated Shakespearean actor, AKA science officer Dr Lazarus, is a joyful and poignant thing to witness. It’s a key role that helps bolster this hilarious satire of everything fan culture holds dear, allowing us – the oh so knowing recipients of its barbs – to laugh along and feed proud with it. Which, against the general despondency of losing these three most excellent men, could well be the perfect antidote to the malaise of their departure.

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It’s a bloodbath of terrible Sci-Fi moments. Imagine Sting from Dune yelling “I will kill him!” only to receive a negation from Mick Jagger in full Freejack mode, “I want him without a scrwatch.” Now imagine this scene being televised on a portable screen carried by one of the killer robots that finish off Gene Simmons in Runaway. OK, it’s a collective low point. But, let’s shudder it off with the realisation that the inclusion of a pop star in your Sci-Fi film doesn’t necessarily consign it to hell.

There are average flicks in which the pop stars in question are actually half decent in their performances. Admittedly, this is usually the result of casting them as a character analogous to their stage personas. So, while Tank Girl and Hardware aren’t the best genre films of all time, Iggy Pop does a laudable portrayal of himself as Rat Face and Angry Bob respectively. Tina Turner does a similar turn as Auntie Entity in Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, while Justin Timberlake manages to dramatically stretch himself for the disappointing In Time.

Occasionally, a combination of good narrative and convincing characterisation by a musician do unify to generate something that resonates. Yes, both Deborah Harry and Meat Loaf don’t deviate from their own personalities much, but neither do they detract from the overall quality of Videodrome or The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

Take things to the next level, and the atmosphere of quality quickly becomes rarefied. Mark Duplass takes his place here thanks to his excellent portrayal of Kenneth in Saftey Not Guaranteed, as well as showcasing his skill as an actor, musician and vocalist.

One pop star, however, has more than his fair share of standout Sci-Fi moments – no real surprise considering his genesis within the music industry. Not only was he convincing, centre stage, as the extra-terrestrial visitor in Nicholas Roeg’s The Man Who Fell to Earth, but he also put in a solid performance as Nikola Tesla in Christopher Nolan’s adaptation of The Prestige. David Bowie may not be the best actor in the pantheon of Hollywood, but he’s a natural for weird, otherworldly individuals with heterochromia. I’d hum Life on Mars as a suitable sign off, but I’d be doing the man a disservice.

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The Right Stuff

Space exploration is cool. It always has been. Take the tale of Neil Armstrong ejecting from the Apollo 11 lander trainer seconds before it crashed. Minutes after the incident, he was found in his office, casually chatting to other base staff with no reference to his near death experience. The man had a hangar load of right stuff cool.

Previously on Drozbot, we’ve reported on some of the coolest elements of space travel – the solution to the Mars rover landing being just one exceptional case. But in all of these robots, rather than people, have taken precedence.

Let’s redress that now with Chris Hadfield’s rendition of David Bowie’s Space Oddity, played from the International Space Station. Through this the commander was instantly propelled to the top of the charts as far as the nerdcore were concerned. Despite his entertaining performance, the cupola on the ISS remains the intellectual property of Tracey Caldwell Dyson and her evocative contemplation of our planet.

Another slice of extra-terrestrial hipness from 2013 was Alfonso Cuarón’s film Gravity. As well as putting women in space front and centre, the movie brilliantly highlighted the fragility of human existence when framed against the vast hostility of space. And it’s precisely this hostility that Richard Branson is now wrestling with. Whatever your thoughts about the entrepreneur, the endeavour to get commercial space flight up and running is inherently stylish, and it’s a shame that Virgin Galactic now faces a major set back after the death of test pilot Michael Alsbury. Respect due to the deceased, though, for paying the ultimate price and for playing his part in humanity’s prospects of survival.

Today, with the audacious Rosetta comet mission, we have Dr Matt Taylor who has brought some much needed knockabout humour to space flight. Yes, his recent wardrobe malfunction was openly offensive, and his achievements came at no physical risk to himself, but he remains about as far from the traditional ‘slide rule’ stereotype of a space scientist as you can get.

So is this all the result of a generational tipping point, a sudden influx of people to positions of influence who were originally motivated by the space race and the stars of the Apollo program? Possibly. What it does collectively represent, is a much more robust, less stuffy approach to exploration beyond Earth which I, for one, am more than willing to advocate.

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