Kurland On Film: Remembering David Bowie 1947-2016

By Scott Kurland

There are some things you remember vividly from your childhood, like your first ice cream or the first time you swam in the ocean. One of my favorite first memories was hearing David Bowie sing for the first time in my fathers car; a huge blue Volvo four door sedan. It had giant blue seats with black speckles, the driver's seat had a hole in the back from my sister and I kicking it too often. It also had a cassette player which, to "1991 Scott," was space technology. 

We would listen to this one mixed tape over and over again on long car trips. The tape in question featured not one, not two, not even three or four David Bowie songs. That’s right, five Bowie songs. Namely “Starman”, “Rebel, Rebel”, “Changes”, “Young Americans”, and “Space Oddity”. Listening to that tape made those long drives to Albany, NY an epic experience. My Bowie-ography was far from finished though; it had barely even begun. That same year I saw him in a Disney Channel VHS copy of “The Snowman” and later as Jareth the Goblin King in Jim Henson’s “Labyrinth.” Both performances left me in awe. Sadly, last night surrounded by his family of loved ones, David Bowie died after an 18 month battle with liver cancer.  It was also two days after his 69th birthday.

Bowie wasn’t just a musician, he was an all around man-about-talent. He could sing, act and boy, did he know how to dance with Muppets. He was also an activist for human rights and believed in equality for everyone. Bowie was in my top three of favorite musicians right behind Harry Nilsson and in front of Peter Gabriel. To me, Bowie is the essence of cool. I mean, no one else could have pulled off that Goblin King puffy shirt, cape, wig, and cod piece the way he did; that’s just cool to the core. 

As an actor, Bowie delivered several memorable performances not just as the Goblin King. He also starred with Susan Sarandon and Catherine Deneuve in “The Hunger” as the vampire turned rotting corpse John Blaylock. Up until that point, we only had “The Man Who Fell to Earth “ as a point of reference for his acting abilities. “The Hunger” showed us a Bowie we never saw before. He was scary, he was stylish, and he was decaying all over the screen. “The Hunger” only lead to other film roles like “Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence”, “Into The Night”, and let’s not forget “The Last Temptation Of Christ” where he played Pontius Pilate. My favorite role of Bowie's was his portrayal of Nikola Tesla in Christopher Nolan’s “The Prestige”. Bowie’s Tesla was mysterious and intriguing; just like Bowie himself. I’ve seen “The Prestige” countless times since it first came out, and when Bowie appears from out of a field of Tesla coils I  still get chills. 

Bowie hasn't just been prominent in films based on his acting alone, but also via his music itself. ‘Moonage Daydream’ is featured in Marvel’s “Guardians of The Galaxy”and it sets the tone for when our rag tag quartet enter Knowhere. Without that song, I know that scene would fail to be as enthralling as it was. It's a song that allowed us to to enter this new world filled with danger, and Bowie’s vocals were as monumental as the imagery presented on the screen. But that’s not the only Bowie song that has ever been used to enhance a film. ‘Starman’ is used in Ridley Scotts “The Martian”. The song is a bridge from the final act to the climax leading to the film’s conclusion. The song is perfect because it primarily deals with a man waiting beyond the stars to be rescued, just like the premise of “The Martian”. All of his songs that appear in cinema, in some form or another, have made those films that much better. However, none of them have left an impression on me the way ‘Heroes’ did when it was in “The Perks Of Being a Wallflower.” 

If at some point you read the book “The Perks of Being A Wallflower,” you learn in the epilogue that ‘Landslide’ was the song Charlie was searching for but couldn't find having only heard it once before. In the film adaptation, 'Landslide' is changed to ‘Heroes,’ with its iconic bass line and repetitious melody. The song 'Heroes' is about breaking out of social norms and becoming someone different; even if it is "just for one day". Bowie’s song is present throughout the film, but it closes Charlie’s story perfectly; ending on just the right note. This song doesn’t just fit the movie, it becomes the anthem of all the characters. The song also helps guide Charlie on his journey to mental wellness and manhood.

The loss of Bowie is devastating because of his presence in this pop-culture driven world. He has been a part of everyone’s life for so long and losing him is just as heartbreaking as losing Robin Williams, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, and Leonard Nimoy. David Bowie has always been a part of my life in some form or another; whether it was his music, his filmography, or even his philosophies that blew all our minds because he was so ahead of the curve. I never knew Bowie, nor have I met him, but his death has left me with a feeling of great sadness. It's a sadness I haven’t felt in a long time. For once in my life, I have nothing funny to say. No wiseacre remarks. Nothing can be said because, for a man this beloved, words can’t describe the loss the world is feeling. Rest in peace David, and I leave you all with this quote from Bowie on his 50th birthday at Madison Square Garden. 

“I don’t know where I’m going from here, but I promise it won’t be boring.” 
                    - David Bowie 1947-2016
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