Filmmaker Francis Whatley tells us about his new David Bowie doc, which airs on BBC Two this Saturday, January 7
He kept coming back to that, didn’t he? He was trying to get one off the ground in the Eighties with Steven Berkoff, I think.
Berkoff. Think about Glass Spider. The 1980 Floor Show was in some ways a musical. He carried on wanting to do it and I don’t think he found the right vehicle. Personally, I think Lazarus is fascinating. I think it’s an extraordinary piece of work and I think it says a huge amount of David Bowie. I think it brings up themes about fame and about celebrity and about alienation. In the first film, we were saying, ‘Isn’t it amazing, look at this guy. He changes from one year to the next.’ I think while that is absolutely true, the essential themes that he is discussing on the albums of last five years are the themes that he has always been discussing – which are fame, which are alienation, which are otherness, which are mortality. The only cover he plays throughout his career is the Jacques Brel song ‘My Death’. I don’t know if it’ll be in the film, but we have Mike Garson saying, ‘I remember saying to David, that’s the best song you’ve ever written.’ David’s face! He said, ‘That was the most stupid thing I ever said to him.’
What do you see as the job of this film?
It’s a tougher one, but I think the job of this film is to explain a) that he’s a far more interesting person than the idea of him chopping and changing all the time would suggest and b) that this is a man who remained ahead of his audience. Did he know? Did he know that he would be dead by the time the album came out? I don’t know. How could I know? How could anyone know? The musicians, the actors, etcetera, most of them didn’t know. Some of them did. But if they were told, and that was the end of the conversation. It’s remarkable that he carried on. On the opening day of Lazarus the play, I don’t think he was well and he forced himself to come and take the curtain bow and then went round the room thanking all the actors, all the cleaners, all the people who’d been involved in any respect. I think that is a mark of the man. He was incredibly courteous. That’s what everyone says. He is a human being, so I’m sure he had his off days. But I think he saw his death as an artwork. Tony Visconti said that, but I think it’s true.
What else is in the film?
We do ‘Sue’. I think ‘Sue’ is fascinating. It’s the point when he’s able to relax. He’s able to say, OK, I’m going to go with Maria Schneider. That song is truly other there. There is nothing on The Next Day like it…