When David Bowie passed away, the oceans of adulation were understandably dominated by praise for his five-decade music career. But simply looking at The Thin White Duke through that lens is like if Bowie had gone through life only observing the world with his one blue eye.
Whether in front of the camera or simply inspiring it, cinema wouldn’t be the same without David Bowie. Here are 10 classic movie moments he left behind that help explain his sexiness, spirituality and sense of humor.
‘Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me’
When news broke that The Thin White Duke was dead, it was easy to immediately conjure up a dozen songs in your mind’s playlist. But for cinephiles, the image that came up as an accompaniment was this one: Dressed in white, walking briskly down a hallway behind Agent Dale Cooper.
Although the “Twin Peaks” movie “Fire Walk With Me” has its problems, David Lynch’s imagery in scenes like this is on-point. Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) reveals that he had a dream once that gave him a glimpse of the other side — and as he stands in front of the video camera and then keeps checking, notice how the elevator, the soundtrack and the shots combine to create a restless, uneasy sensation. Even Bowie’s attempt at a Southern accent sets a mysterious, bizarre mood.
The scene perfectly captures what Bowie represents to pop culture — an enigma, a well-dressed elegant man of mystery who seems to operate on a different plane of existence. Now that he is dead, you can imagine his fans screaming “He’s gone! He’s gone!” and the reply coming back: He was never here.
Bowie was the world’s first androgynous superstar. There were rumors of his love affairs with men and women, but any talk of such matters seemed beneath him. His efforts inspired generations of teens to embrace who they were, rather than who society wanted them to be.
Director Tony Scott tapped into this side of the singer brilliantly with “The Hunger,” a film that has since defined every take on the “erotic vampire” trope. Without a word spoken, watch how this clip casts a spell, sets a mood — and gets under your skin.
For decades, Bowie was sexuality personified — but couldn’t be any further from a female-fantasy like Brad Pitt or a male fantasy like Pamela Anderson. He represented the dark space in-between, the seduction best left unspoken — but in “The Hunger” and music videos like “Miracle Goodnight,” he gave it a voice.
Andy Warhol was an enigma of a man whose greatest attribute was his ability to inspire great art out of others. So, it was perfect casting when Julian Schnabel put Bowie in a white wig and cast him in this 1996 art-house flick.
Warhol gave us Lou Reed; without Bowie, there’d be no Iggy Pop. Warhol pushed Jean-Michel Basquiat onto the stage; when Bowie heard that ’70’s rockers Mott the Hoople were about to break up, he made them icons of the glam movement by giving them “All the Young Dudes,” a massive hit. Bowie also gave invaluable support to many other artists, filmmakers and of course, musicians.
“Guardians of the Galaxy”
Right around the time that Bowie was reportedly learning that he had cancer, this Marvel blockbuster hit theaters. Read this note for proof that if there had been no Bowie, we would have no “Guardians of the Galaxy.”
Although he had nothing to do with it, Bowie’s influence can be felt on virtually every frame of the movie — the man invented the very concept of the modern “space epic,” and director James Gunn acknowledges that with the use of his 1972 classic “Moonage Daydream” from the “Ziggy Stardust & The Spiders From Mars” in the movie.
Gunn and Marvel wanted Bowie to cameo in “GoTG 2,” and he’s still determined to make the singer’s presence felt. “I’ve been trying to work another song from Ziggy into the sequel,” Gunn writes. ‘Which would make Bowie the only artist to have a song on both Vol. 1 and Vol. 2.”
One thing that many obituaries are overlooking about Bowie is that the man had a very real sense of humor, and a willingness to laugh at himself. You may be cool, but you’ll never be David-Bowie-ripping-off-his-sunglasses-backwards cool.
‘The Man Who Fell to Earth’
Bowie’s first starring role tapped into two of his major musical stages: The “2001: A Space Odyssey”-influenced Major Tom of his song “Space Oddity,” and of course the early-Seventies Ziggy Stardust efforts that flipped that song on its head.
Arguably his most famous film appearance, “The Man Who Fell” is also representative of Bowie’s ahead-of-its-time ability to manipulate his image. Way before Madonna or Britney, David Bowie reinvented himself from year to year, leaving fans constantly wondering where he’d go next.
His music – Various films
Bowie’s profound influence on other artists is staggering.
As Wes Anderson developed “The Life Aquatic,” he had the idea of giving the film a sense of isolated familiarity by having musician Seu Jorge sing Bowie songs in Portuguese; when Lars von Trier sought to end his bleak “Dogville” with an ironic middle-finger, he chose “Young Americans.” Quentin Tarantino found 1982’s “Cat People” to be the perfect soundtrack for a Nazi film set in 1941, while Kristen Wiig serenaded Ben Stiller with “Space Oddity” in the “Walter Mitty” remake.
Think about how diverse these four clips are — and how, without Bowie’s participation, he still managed to create iconic movie moments. In this time of pop culture mourning, it’s comforting to realize that although Bowie is gone, his music will be inspiring cinema for decades to come.