Tuesday, August 25, 2009
David Bowie. Boys Keep Swinging (1979).
I remember seeing this video, very late at night in 1979, on some random TV show. At the time, all I was really listening to was classical music and prog rock, so I had no previous interest in David Bowie, I thought he was just some wacko. When this video came on, it took me by surprise, and I sensed there was more going on with him, in fact, I believed I was seeing "art."
It's not that the video is weird. Weird isn't always good, or even interesting, sometimes weird is just dumb. Boys Keep Swinging is chilling in a metaphysical way. Note the lack of special effects. It's essentially a theatrical performance. It's not spontaneous or tossed off, it's premeditated and carefully staged.
There are two parts, the "performance" and the "runway show." In the performance part, Bowie performs enthusiastically in eerie isolation, doing his awkward/cool rock and roll dance, without a band or any visible audience. It's like a claustrophobic peepshow. If you haven't seen this, or forget what happens next, I won't spoil it for you, but David takes some female personas for a stroll down a catwalk. It's has you wondering at first, "Is that him? It can't be him. Oh, yes, it's definitely him!" The cheap set design for the "runway" section is completely fabulous, it would have been ruined if it were of a higher quality. And don't forget cheap can look expensive on film, this was meant to look tacky. The female characters are deftly mimed in brief cameos and each of them is individually defined with a few ingenious bits of actor's business.
How can I not mention Adrian Belew's guitar solo that accompanies the runway portion? It's a sublime and unbounded bit of ecstatic improvisation.