Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, 1973.
Directed by D.A. Pennebaker
Starring David Bowie, Mick Ronson, Mick ‘Woody’ Woodmansey, Trevor Bolder, Angela Bowie, Ringo Starr
A documentary and concert film documenting David Bowie and his band, The Spiders From Mars, performing their last live date together at London’s Hammersmith Odeon on July 3, 1973.
Directed by pioneering music film-maker D.A. Pennebaker (1967’s Bob Dylan: Don’t Look Back), this documentary and concert film captures Bowie and his band, The Spiders From Mars, performing at London’s Hammersmith Odeon on July 3, 1973. It was at this now-infamous concert that Bowie made a sudden announcement stating “it’s the last show we’ll ever do”.
This announcement – as we learn from drummer ‘Woody’ Woodmansey, talking about the gig in a special interview released in conjunction with a one-off screening of the film – came as a shock to fans and Spiders alike, but as we can see with hindsight it was all part of Bowie’s drive to constantly create and re-invent. The retirement of the Ziggy Stardust character – and the subsequent darker vision of the character in Aladdin Sane, possibly marked by the long tour of Ziggy in America – is the real story of this captivating concert film.
The film itself has its difficulties. The dressing room scenes showing Bowie getting hair and makeup applied for the show as well as the never ending costume changes highlight the difference between the rather shy sounding performer and the rock megastar/ultra glam alien Ziggy Stardust. His then wife Angie appears near the start and a non-speaking Ringo Starr is also backstage at one point, showing the height of fame that Bowie was already at in 1973.
Pennebaker seems to be making the point that Bowie was a genius actor, working hard to focus on the character while surrounded with fame and all of its distractions. While this as a fact of the star’s life is not in question, the cuts from concert to backstage do slightly draw away from the show as pure spectacle, when the audience simply want to believe that Ziggy is completely real. The shots of the audience certainly display that, with the faces of the mostly teenage girls taking on a look of religious ecstasy. Thankfully the cuts away from the real action onstage are reasonably brief and, while of genuine interest to Bowie fans, the film soon reveals the real business of the gig itself.
The band rip through tracks mostly from the albums Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars and Aladdin Sane, with a few older tracks (Changes, Space Oddity) also making the playlist. Things slow down slightly during a cover of Jacques Brel’s ‘My Death’, which features intense close ups of Bowie channelling the chanson’s spirit of poetic and lyrical theatre. A fantastic cover of the Velvet Underground’s White Light, White Heat is also included with Bowie thanking the song’s writer Lou Reed as an intro. This adrenaline fuelled track wonderfully sets up the emotional ending, when the audience – and the Spiders – learn that Ziggy will not be playing any more shows…
Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars will hit cinemas for one night only on March 7th, participating cinemas can be found via the official website here.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★★★★ / Movie: ★★★★
Robert W Monk is a freelance journalist and film writer.