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Originally made for the BBC’s arts strand Omnibus, this is a brilliant, mesmeric, landmark documentary, even if Yentob is slightly disparaging of Bowie’s re-invention as “a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