I would love to know what people think of this video for the song Blackstar, by David Bowie, from the album by the same name, which he released just over a year ago, two days before he died.
I think it has everything in it. Life and death. Black and white. Men and women. This world and the other. The visionary. The trickster. The mythic and magic and archaic and futuristic—and everything in between. Not to mention genius.
A lot’s been written about Bowie’s ‘final act,’ and how he managed (or reality conspired) to make death itself into art, which it seems to me is only possible if dying is so much more than mere nihilation.
I would love to explore every dimension of this film, with anyone who’ll make the space and take the time to experience it and respond.
One of the things I’ve read is that in the year producing Blackstar, Bowie and his crew were listening to a lot of Kendrick Lamar, whose album To Pimp a Butterly had been recently released (to much acclaim).
Here’s a video from Lamar’s album, which in its own way, has everything in it, too.
I think there’s something of deep kin in these two artists, and the quality of their artistry, which perhaps even in part inspired the title “Blackstar” (though I’m merely speculating on that).
Here is background on the connection, and the making of Blackstar:
At the moment, I don’t have time to develop an articulate analysis of Blackstar, but I just wanted to offer a quick response. Although I have been an admirer of Bowie since the late '70s, I haven’t really followed much of his recent work. I stumbled across the Blackstar video two weeks ago. I have to say that I was stunned. The video sent a shiver down my spine and stirred up any number of deep echoes. I immediately ordered the cd and will give it quite a bit of attention. To my mind, this is the best thing that he has done in several decades. I regard it as a work of genius–both personal and collective. As you may know, James Cucio is working on a book on Bowie, Hunter Thompson and Yukio Mishima. Perhaps you might want to invite him to write a Microdose on the piece?
(Sorry for being incommunicado these last two months. After recovering–to the best of my ability–from the election, I have been throwing myself into revisions of Voyage to a Nonexistent Home.)
Both of these video feature horror film techniques. Jerky surprising shots and jump cuts, reversals (Lamar’s upside down head), people out of focus behaving in unnatural ways (tremoring, writhing, jerking), shadowy, occult imagery, and… blatant human expressions of troubling emotions. Both also dabble in subliminal messaging, which adds to the unsettling effect. What I love about Blackstar is the insistence on incorporating ritual/mystic/occult imagery without offering any context. The viewer is disoriented–and disturbed–from beginning to end of the piece. I believe this is a comment on how the way to approach death, which represents the disintegration of everything material, normal, safe, sane, etc., is to look at it through the lens of ritual/occult practices (our ties to our ancestral, animal, pagan past) without any logic needed–representative of the natural inescapable slip into the shadowy, shuddering edges of the mind. Throughout it, the most profound part of Blackstar’s themes in my opinion, Bowie seems at peace and even relishing the descent of death–he has chosen to be at comfort with the reality of discomfort/chaos. He was such an epic figure and artist… when I saw Blackstar and then learned he’d died, what, 3 weeks after its release? I was like “OF COURSE Bowie would go out like that. Totally artistically OWNING his experience with impeccable poise and flair.” Even in the decline of life, he’s beyond his time. <3
This link will take you to an insightful review of the video.
It’s great that people are still talking about the meaning of this video!
Thanks, @Lea! Some really interesting points in Random Jetsam’s review, e.g., the connection to Osiris and the seductive aspects of the the death-transmuting ritual. I disagree on the interpretation of the “black star” as “devoid of light, a negative image of a real star. The Blackstars are everything that real stars are not – talentless, humorless anti-heroes.”
Quite the opposite, I see the blackstar as even better than a “real star,” because it integrates darkness and light. It’s a luminous void, a time and space warping mystery; as well as the alignment of sun and moon in the eclipse phenomenon. But of course, this is open to interpretation.
I see the different incarnations of Bowie’s character in the film (from the blind one with bandaged/buttoned eyes downstairs, to the singing/praying one in the attic, to the charismatic priest with the magic book, to the dead spaceman) as various levels or aspects of the artist’s soul, all active at the same time, vibrating simultaneously, which is why the film shifts back and forth between them, at times spasmodically.
And yet, there is a ritual act, a narrative that’s completed by the circle of women, who offer up the (recovered) bejeweled skull of the spaceman/artist to the priestess, perform their rites, and then create an alter for the skull, which is rested on one woman’s back, while the blinded Bowie writhes (like the crucified scarecrows) and the spaceman’s body floats away toward the dark star.
There is of course much more going on!
I got curious and Googled and found a couple other takes. Here’s a pretty interesting one: