‘Cracked Actor’: Classic Bowie doc with rare footage of the ‘Diamond Dogs’ tour
11.07.2013
05:34 pm

Topics:
Drugs
Music
Television

Tags:
David Bowie
Alan Yentob


 
Cracked Actor is a 1974 BBC television documentary film about David Bowie that first aired in January of 1975. It was kind of a “Holy Grail” for Bowie nuts and over the years I’ve owned a VHS bootleg that was barely watchable, a DVD that was a slight improvement over that, and then I taped it off the air when BBC America aired it about ten years ago. Earlier this year, what with all the Bowie hoopla going on in the UK, the film was re-transferred to HD and trotted out again by the BBC. Now it’s really easy to find. In fact, it’s just a few inches below this very sentence.

Cracked Actor is a fascinatingly odd film. It was directed by a then 27-year-old Alan Yentob, later the Director of Programmes for all of BBC Television, who was promised extraordinary access to the singer by his manager Tony Defries. We meet a sickly, obviously coked-out David Bowie, being shunted between performances, limousines and hotels. He’s pale, stick thin and clearly mentally fragile. The somewhat uncomfortable manner in which he comports himself in film apparently made a big impression on Nicolas Roeg, who promptly cast him as an alien in The Man Who Fell to Earth.

In 1987, Bowie said of watching the film again:

“I was so blocked ... so stoned ... It’s quite a casualty case, isn’t it? I’m amazed I came out of that period, honest. When I see that now I cannot believe I survived it. I was so close to really throwing myself away physically, completely.”

Cracked Actor was mostly shot in Los Angeles and the majority of the concert footage was taken from a show at the Universal Amphitheatre on September 2, 1974. It is one of the sole sources of footage from the Burroughsian dystopia via Busby Berkeley vision of the infamous Diamond Dogs tour. Some of the material comes from D.A. Pennebaker’s Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders from Mars film.

Among the numbers performed in the film are “Space Oddity,” “Cracked Actor,” “Sweet Thing/Candidate,” “Moonage Daydream,” “The Width of a Circle,” “Aladdin Sane,” “Time” and “Diamond Dogs.”
 

Written by Richard Metzger | Discussion
‘Imaginary Man’: Julien Temple’s superb documentary on Ray Davies

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Director and Kinks fan, Julien Temple beautifully captures Ray Davies’ wistfulness in his excellent documentary on the former-Kink, Ray Davies: Imaginary Man. Davies is allowed to gently meander around his past life, talking about his childhood, his family of 7 sisters and 1 brother, his early days with The Kinks, the development of his writing skill (the quality and consistency of which now makes him seem at times better than, if not on par with Lennon & McCartney, Jagger & Richard), and onto his life of fame, of parenthood, of growing-up, all of which seemed to happen so fast.

It would seem Davies has always lived his life with one eye on the past—from the nostalgia of The Village Green Preservation Society through to his film Return to Waterloo, Davies takes solace from the past. It gives his music that beautiful, bittersweet quality, as Milan Kundera reminds us that:

The Greek word for “return” is nostos. Algos means “suffering.” So nostalgia is the suffering caused by an unappeased yearning to return.

But it’s not just about wanting to return to some mythical past, it’s also about loss—whether this is the loss of the past, of opportunities, of career, or, even of memory—for without memory we are nothing. Memory keeps us relevant, and all artists want to be relevant. Throughout Temple’s film, Davies makes reference to this sense of loss, from the remnants of Hornsea Town Hall, to the changing landscape of London, or the songs he has written. And put together with the brilliance of the songs, the wealth of archive, and Ray Davies’ gentle narration, Temple has created a clever, beautiful, and moving film, which leaves you wanting to know and hear more.
 

 
Previously on Dangerous Minds

Stations En Route to Ray Davies’ Film Masterpiece: ‘Return to Waterloo’


‘Kinkdom Come’: A beautiful film on Dave Davies


 

Written by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
‘Cracked Actor’: BBC’s landmark documentary on David Bowie, 1975

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Cracked Actor captured David Bowie at “a fragile stage” in his life. His relationship with his wife, Angie, was beginning to falter, there was business problems looming, and he was addicted to cocaine, which caused “severe physical debilitation, paranoia and emotional problems.” Filmed during Bowie’s legendary “Diamond Dogs Tour” in 1974, Alan Yentob’s film revealed a man on the run, taking stock, even questioning his own ambitions:

‘I never wanted to be a rock ‘n’ roll star. I never, honest guv, I wasn’t even there. But I was, you see, I was there. That’s what happened.’

Revealing his difficulties with fame:

‘Do you know that feeling you get in a car when somebody’s accelerating very fast and you’re not driving? And you get that “Uhhh” thing in your chest when you’re being forced backwards and you think “Uhhh” and you’re not sure whether you like it or not? It’s that kind of feeling. That’s what success was like. The first thrust of being totally unknown to being what seemed to be very quickly known. It was very frightening for me and coping with it was something that I tried to do. And that’s what happened. That was me coping. Some of those albums were me coping, taking it all very seriously I was.’

And the singer’s paranoia, at the time of Watergate and Richard Nixon’s resignation:

‘There’s an underlying unease here, definitely. You can feel it in every avenue and it’s very calm. And it’s a kind of superficial calmness that they’ve developed to underplay the fact that it’s… there’s a lot of high pressure here as it’s a very big entertainment industry area. And you get this feeling of unease with everybody. The first time that it really came home to me what a kind of strange fascination it has is the… we… I came in on the train… on the earthquake, and the earthquake was actually taking place when the train came in. And the hotel that we were in was… just tremored every few minutes. I mean, it was just a revolting feeling. And ever since then I‘ve always been very aware of how dubious a position it is to stay here for any length of time.’

In a series of interviews, filmed in limousines, backstage and in hotel rooms, Cracked Actor reveals an uncertain, vulnerable, and at times incoherent Bowie; but in performance, he is magnificent.

Originally made for the BBC’s arts strand Omnibus, this is a brilliant, mesmeric, landmark documentary, even if Yentob is slightly disparaging of Bowie’s re-invention as “a soul singer.”

Footnote: when film director, Nicholas Roeg watched Cracked Actor, he decided to cast Bowie in The Man Who Fell to Earth.
 

 

Written by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
Classic documentary on William Burroughs

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Last year, Dangerous MInd writer, Bradley Novicoff posted a link to this excellent BBC documentary on William S. Burroughs. At the time it wasn’t possible to embed Arena: Burroughs onto our site, but now it is.

Burroughs was originally made in 1983 by Howard Brookner and Alan Yentob, as part of the BBC’s art strand Arena, and repeated after Burrough’s death in 1997. It is an exceptional documentary, one that gives an intimate and revealing portrait of Burroughs, as he revisits his childhood home; discusses his up-bringing with his brother, Mortimer; his friendship with Jack Kerouac, Allen Gisnberg, and Brion Gysin; and has a reunion with artist Francis Bacon, who Burroughs knew in Tangier. Other contributors include Terry Southern, Patti Smith, and James Grauerholz.

 

 

Written by Paul Gallagher | Discussion