Review: ‘Moonage Daydream,’ starring David Bowie

September 12, 2022

by Carla Hay

David Bowie in “Moonage Daydream” (Photo courtesy of Neon)

“Moonage Daydream”

Directed by Brett Morgen

Culture Representation: Taking place in various parts of the world (but particularly in London, New York City, Los Angeles and Berlin), the documentary film “Moonage Daydream” features a compilation of archival footage of entertainment superstar David Bowie (who died of cancer in 2016) and his various admirers and colleagues, who are mostly white, but include some black people, Latino and Asians.

Culture Clash: Bowie’s life as an artist is chronicled in this montage-styled film, including his unconventional stage personas and lifestyle; his insecurities about his work; and his personal struggles with finding true love. 

Culture Audience: “Moonage Daydream” will appeal primarily to Bowie fans and people interested in seeing a visually immersive documentary about an entertainment icon.

David Bowie in “Moonage Daydream” (Photo courtesy of Neon)

Die-hard fans of David Bowie will not learn anything new from the all-archival documentary “Moonage Daydream.” The movie skips over some big parts of his life, but it’s a visually immersive experience that shows Bowie’s music and talent in an artsy way. “Moonage Daydream” is the first feature-length documentary authorized by the Bowie estate since he died of cancer in 2016. Bowie was 69 when he passed away.

Directed by Brett Morgen, “Moonage Daydream” includes voiceovers from some of Bowie’s media interviews that serve as intermittent narration. The documentary is a mix of media footage, live concert footage and music videos. Much of this footage is presented in Andy Warhol-influenced montages. “Moonage Daydream” had its world premiere at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival in Cannes, France.

The “Moonage Daydream” documentary gets its title from the Bowie song of the same name that’s on Bowie’s 1972 album “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.” Bowie (who was born David Robert Jones in London, on January 8, 1947) was famous for frequently changing his image and musical styles over the years. During his “Ziggy Stardust” period, he performed as an outer-space alien rock star named Ziggy Stardust, whose backup band was named the Spiders from Mars.

Becoming the Ziggy Stardust persona was a pivotal period of time in Bowie’s career. He went from merely being a hit artist to a superstar know for celebrating acceptance of all sexualities, at a time when it was still very taboo for entertainers to openly embrace or be any sexuality that wasn’t heterosexual. To legions of fans and other admirers, Bowie represented people who wanted to express themselves and their genders in whatever ways they wanted.

Bowie was a recording artist from the 1960s until his death in 2016, but what he created in the 1970s was considered his most influential and therefore gets the most screen time in the “Moonage Daydream” documentary. Out of all all the 1970s footage in “Moonage Daydream,” the documentary features the “Ziggy Stardust” area the most. The “Moonage Daydream” documentary has several clips from director D. A. Pennebaker’s 1979 documentary film “Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars,” which chronicled a 1973 concert that Bowie and his band did in London.

Unfortunately, for people who are unfamiliar with Bowie, “Moonage Daydream” does not tell Bowie’s story in chronological order, nor does the movie identify years in which any of the footage was taken. For example, one section of the documentary goes into Bowie’s work in the early-to-mid-1980s, but then jumps back to talking about his work in the late 1970s when Bowie collaborated with Brian Eno in Berlin. This jumping around in the timeline is one of the documentary’s flaws. The only people who can truly appreciate the historical context of the footage shown in the documentary are people who know what years Bowie’s songs and albums were released, or people can discern what year the footage was taken, based on what Bowie is wearing and his hairstyle in the footage.

However, the documentary greatly benefits from having several Bowie songs, as any credible film about Bowie should. “Moonage Daydream” has many of Bowie’s biggest hits, including “Space Oddity,” “Ziggy Stardust,” “Diamond Dogs,” “Changes,” “Starman,” “The Jean Genie” “Life on Mars?,” “All the Young Dudes” (a Bowie-written song made famous by Mott the Hoople), “Heroes,” “Let’s Dance,” “China Girl” and “Modern Love.” Also included are some of Bowie’s lesser-known songs, such as “Moonage Daydream,” “Cracked Actor,” “Serious Moonlight,” “Outside” and “Earthling.” There’s also a brief snippet of Bowie performing the Beatles’ “Love Me Do” on stage in 1973 before launching into “The Jean Genie.”

“Moonage Daydream” dutifully includes mentions of Bowie’s acting career, including showing movie clips from 1976’s “The Man Who Fell to Earth,” 1983’s “Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence” and 1986’s “Labryinth.” There’s also some quick footage of Bowie’s Broadway acting debut, in his starring role as the title character in “The Elephant Man,” which he played from September 1980 to January 1981. David Bowie’s 1980s musical duets with Queen and Tina Turner fly by in quick snippets that don’t do these collaborations justice. Bowie’s work as the lead singer of experimental rock band Tin Machine (from 1988 to 1992) is not in the documentary at all, but the documentary includes some footage of Bowie as an illustrator artist.

What you won’t see in “Moonage Daydream” are any mentions of his first wife Angie Bowie (they were married from 1970 to 1980); his son Duncan Jones (formerly known as Zowie Bowie) from that marriage; and his daughter Alexandria “Lexi” Jones, from his marriage to second wife Iman. In fact, Iman (a supermodel/beauty entrepreneur who’s originally from Somalia) is the only woman mentioned in the documentary as someone Bowie fell in love with in his life. It’s obviously very selective information. Iman and Bowie were married from 1992 until his 2016 death.

Except for some brief audio and video interview clips, “Moonage Daydream” offers very little insight of Bowie talking about his personal life. He mentions his distant relationship with his mother; his schizophrenic older half-brother Terry Burns, who was the first person to influence Bowie’s interest in art and music; and his soul mate Iman, whom he says he fell in love with at first sight. There’s some archival footage of a divorced Bowie in the ’80s, where he talks about living a nomadic existence for years and confessing that falling in love is scary for him.

In the 1970s, Bowie was seriously addicted to cocaine, which was an addiction he candidly talked about years later in interviews. However, don’t expect “Moonage Daydream” to go into details about sex and drugs in Bowie’s life. Even without these explicit details, anyone can see in the early-to-mid-1970s archival footage there were plenty of signs that Bowie was a cocaine addict, including his sniffing and constantly touching his nose, his fidgety mannerisms in some of his interviews, and his unhealthy physical appearance.

In addition to footage of Bowie, “Moonage Daydream” also includes a lot of pop culture and news clips that somehow relate to whatever music is playing. For example, footage from the documentary “Apollo 11” is briefly shown in keeping with the “moon” theme. The closest to anything “new and orginal” that “Moonage Daydream” offers is some brief sci-fi footage bookended at the beginning and ending of the movie. This footage shows a woman with an animal’s tail while she’s on the moon and looking at a skeleton in an astronaut suit.

It seems that “Moonage Daydream” director Morgen went out of his way not to do a conventional documentary, since Bowie was not a conventional artist. But in doing so, the documentary loses some coherence. After a while, “Moonage Daydream” looks like a mishmash of montages resembling a very long music video. “Moonage Daydream” also has some editing that’s sometimes frustrating to watch. There are at least three different times it looks like this 140-minute movie has ended, and then it drags on some more.

People who are casual fans of Bowie will be intrigued by “Moonage Daydream” but might occasionally get bored. “Moonage Daydream” is worthwhile but not essential viewing for Bowie fans. For any Bowie fans who saw the outstanding “David Bowie Is” museum exhibition world tour that took place from 2013 to 2018, that museum exhibition remains the ultimate Bowie multimedia experience since Bowie’s unfortunate passing.

Neon will release “Moonage Daydream” in select U.S. cinemas on September 16, 2022, with an expansion to more U.S. cinemas on September 23, 2022. The movie is set for a sneak preview in select IMAX theaters on September 12, 2022.

Review: ‘Stardust’ (2020), starring Johnny Flynn, Jena Malone and Marc Maron

December 30, 2020

by Carla Hay

Aaron Poole and Johnny Flynn in “Stardust” (Photo courtesy of IFC Films)

“Stardust” (2020)

Directed by Gabriel Range

Culture Representation: Taking place in 1971, in England and various parts of the United States, the drama “Stardust” features an all-white cast of characters in a fictional interpretation of David Bowie and his early career.

Culture Clash: Bowie goes on a promotional tour of America and is frustrated by getting a mostly confused reaction or lack of interest from the music industry and music consumers.

Culture Audience: “Stardust” tries to appeal to Bowie fans, but the movie is a sloppily made bore that’s an insult to Bowie’s legacy.

Johnny Flynn and Marc Maron in “Stardust” (Photo courtesy of IFC Films)

British rock star David Bowie was a fascinating, vibrant and legendary artist. But you’d never know it by how the dreadfully dull and shoddy film “Stardust” tries to tarnish his legacy by portraying Bowie in 1971 as a petulant hack who cared more about looking like a moody artist than actually creating any art. You don’t have to be a Bowie fan to know that his creativity was perhaps his most-admired trait as an artist. “Stardust” looks like the filmmakers cared more about replicating Bowie’s crooked teeth than making a reasonably good movie.

Needless to say, Bowie’s family/estate had nothing to do with this embarrassing mess of a film. Bowie, who died of cancer in 2016, never wanted to write a memoir or have a movie made about his life. But “Stardust” writer/director Gabriel Range clearly didn’t respect that wish and wanted a cash grab of a movie while trying to boost his career as a filmmaker. The result is an insulting film that blatantly uses the famous name of a very talented artist and warps the artist’s story by making the artist look very untalented.

To make matters worse, Range gave this statement in the “Stardust” production notes: “I’ve been fascinated by Bowie ever since I was a kid. I bought every record, read every interview, every biography.” Really? Based on the way that “Stardust” turned out, it looks like Range forgot everything he heard and read about Bowie and replaced it with this delusional story: Bowie is a wannabe rock star who has a creative breakthrough only when he rips off an idea in a therapy session while visiting his schizophrenic brother in a psychiatric institution.

Until “Stardust” gets to this ludicrously bad plot development near the end of the film, it’s a sluggish and often-idiotic slog that makes the movie’s sex, drugs and rock’n’roll clichés look like pathetic posturing by woefully miscast actors. The casting in this movie is simply atrocious, with actors in their 30s and 40s portraying people who were supposed to be in their 20s at the time this story takes place in 1971. Bowie, his band mates, his wife Angie, and Bowie’s good friend Marc Bolan (the lead singer of T. Rex) are among the characters who are cast with age-inappropriate actors who seem to be doing parodies of the real people.

The only actor who actually comes close to looking and sounding like an authentic showbiz person from this time period is Marc Maron. He portrays a smarmy American publicist named Ron Oberman, who works for Mercury Records (Bowie’s record label at the time) and volunteers to chaperone Bowie during Bowie’s disastrous 1971 tour of America. This tour takes up about 80% of the movie.

Ron was a real person, but he never did this type of road trip with Bowie in real life. Because Ron wasn’t famous, most people in the general public won’t know how accurately the movie portrays his personality. However, Maron at least realistically depicts how publicists in the music business often act when they’re desperate to get media coverage for an artist whose most recent album is considered a flop.

Although there’s a disclaimer in the beginning of “Stardust” that says, “What follows is (mostly) fictional,” it’s a moronic statement. That’s because the filmmakers didn’t change real-life people’s names, album titles, song titles and other major identifiers about Bowie’s life in this story. A more accurate statement would have been: “What follows is (mostly) a ripoff of Bowie’s life and legacy.”

British actor Johnny Flynn portrays David Bowie (whose birth surname was Jones) in “Stardust.” Flynn has the misfortune of being stuck in the aforementioned crooked teeth (the movie’s most accurate replication from Bowie’s life) and in cheap-looking wigs. Flynn tries and mostly fails at capturing the charismatic and mysterious essence of Bowie. (For the purposes of this review, the Bowie character in the movie will be identified as David, while the real-life Bowie will be referred to as Bowie.)

In real life, Bowie had an elegant, otherworldly aura about him, while Flynn depicts Bowie as a pouty and confused dandy who looks like he’s a rejected extra who wandered off of the set of filmmaker Todd Haynes’ 1998 Bowie-inspired drama “Velvet Goldmine,” which was also set in the 1970s. There are moments when Flynn attempts to portray Bowie as a misunderstood, tortured soul. But the acting is too affected and too mired in insufferably inane dialogue.

Flynn does his own singing in “Stardust,” which obviously couldn’t get the rights to any of Bowie’s original studio recordings or any songs written by Bowie. Instead, viewers get snippets of third-rate performances of Flynn as David on stage, singing cover versions of other artists’ songs, such as Billy Boy Arnold’s “I Wish You Would” and Jacques Brel’s “Amsterdam” and “My Death.” There’s also a performance of “Good Ol’ Jane,” an original song written by Flynn that sounds like a wannabe Velvet Underground tune.

And this is very much a solo tour. Bowie’s band members, including guitarist Mick Ronson (played by Aaron Poole), are not on this trip. And therefore, the band members are barely in the movie.

In the beginning of “Stardust” (which mainly takes place in 1971, but jumps back and forth in time with David’s flashbacks), David arrives at an airport in Washington, D.C., and immediately stands out as a “freak” because he’s very androgynous-looking. As customs officials go through David’s luggage and see that he has feminine-looking clothes in his suitcase, one of the officials holds up a dress and looks at it with a mixture of curiosity and disgust.

David says pretentiously, “It’s a man’s dress. It’s by Michael Fish. He invented the kipper tie.” The customs official could care less. Later on, David is asked during an interview in the customs area if he is gay (David is advised to answer no, so he says no) or has any mental illnesses. This question about mental illness triggers a series of flashbacks to David spending time with his older half-brother Terry Burns (played by Derek Moran), who was diagnosed as schizophrenic and spent time in a psychiatric institution, as did the real Terry Burns.

Through these various flashbacks, viewers see that Terry, who’s about 10 years older than David, was David’s greatest inspiration when he was growing up. Terry was the first person to introduce David to music. And the movie pushes a narrative that David’s “The Man Who Sold the World” album (released in the U.S. in November 1970 and in the U.K. in April 1971) was largely inspired by David’s fears that he might inherit his family’s history of mental illness, since David’s maternal aunts and maternal grandmother were also schizophrenic. The album track “All the Madmen” was supposed to be about Terry and David’s relationship, according to this movie.

“The Man Who Sold the World” album wasn’t the big hit that David had with his 1969 self-titled second album, which yielded his breakthrough single “Space Oddity.” In the movie, David is seen having several tense meetings about his career, because he’s in danger of being considered a one-hit wonder, and there’s talk that Mercury Records might drop him.

In England, David’s manager Tony Defries (played by Julian Richings) and David’s wife Angie (played by Jena Malone) lecture David on what they think is best for his career. (In real life, Bowie’s manager at the time was Tony DeVries.) Tony tells David that “The Man Who Sold the World” album is considered “too dark and weird for the Yanks.” Tony mentions to David that publicist Ron Oberman is supposedly the only person at Mercury Records who cares about David.

Angie is an American, but she puts on airs with a fake accent where she tries to sound British. During the tour, she’s pregnant at the Bowies’ home in England, although the movie never shows her giving birth in May 1971 to David and Angie’s son, who was then known as Zowie Bowie, but he now goes by the name Duncan Jones. In the movie, not once does David show any concern for his unborn child. David doesn’t even mention his child. It’s simply horrendous how the movie makes him look like a cold, uncaring father, when in reality (by all accounts) he was a more nurturing parent to Duncan/Zowie than Angie was.

In real life, David and Angie Bowie were very open about being bisexual swingers, which is depicted in the movie as Angie reacting this way when a young woman attempts to seduce David at a party, with Angie nearby. Angie says haughtily to this would-be mistress: “If you want him, you have to go through me.” Angie then gives the woman a passionate kiss on the mouth and tells her that she can join her and David in the bedroom later. T. Rex singer Bolan (played by James Cade) makes a cameo at this party by giving a badly written speech about the joys of taking LSD, as if he’s trying to be the next Timothy Leary.

Angie is depicted as someone who loved to tell people that she and David had an unconventional marriage. But in this movie, she falls into a very conventional “wife of a musician” stereotype of being a nagging shrew who complains that David doesn’t pay more attention to her when he’s away on tour. She also fancies herself as a wheeler dealer who can take control of certain aspects of David’s career, even though the movie doesn’t show her actually doing anything business-minded, except trying to get Ron fired because David’s career in America isn’t going as well as she hopes it will.

During the road trip with Ron in America, David gets a rude awakening when he thinks he’s going to be treated like a star. Instead, he’s mostly treated like an oddball nobody. Rather than staying at a five-star hotel as he expected when he first arrives in America, David stays at the house of Ron’s parents until David and Ron begin their road trip, with Ron doing the driving. Ron is middle-aged and divorced with no kids. It’s implied that Ron still lives with his parents.

Ron thinks David is a genius and tells him that repeatedly. This fast-talking publicist is convinced that he can persuade people into believing the same way about David. However, based on the things that people in the music industry say to Ron and how he’s treated, Ron doesn’t get much respect because his career has gone nowhere and he’s considered kind of a joke.

David’s management in England botched the immigration paperwork, so David doesn’t find out until he arrives in America that he doesn’t have a work visa to perform music during this visit. In other words, the “Stardust” filmmakers couldn’t get the rights to Bowie’s music so they had to think of a reason in the plot to explain why Bowie’s original songs aren’t in the movie. Despite David being told that he can’t perform any of his music on the tour, the movie still shows David performing anyway. Ron books David at a hotel convention for vacuum salespeople, and a humiliated David performs in a hotel bar to a very straight-laced crowd that largely ignores him.

Ron arranges interviews with David and influential people in the media, but David grows increasingly difficult and deliberately sabotages the interviews. An interview with a magazine journalist named Tom Classon (played by Ryan Blakeley) only happens after Ron pathetically begs Tom to interview David. Tom doesn’t like “The Man Who Sold the World” album, but only agrees to interview David to get Ron to stop pestering him about it. During the interview, David acts weird and standoffish and then does part of his pantomime act. And Tom literally laughs as he abruptly ends the interview.

At a nightclub bar after another underwhelming performance, Ron introduces David to Jeanie Richards (played by Annie Briggs), a music writer for a major publication called Skyline. But instead of having a conversation with her, as Ron is expecting, David decides to hang out with another woman he met that night whose pickup line was: “Do you want to do some coke with me?” David and this random woman then do cocaine and have sex in a back room while Jeanie waits at the bar for David to come back to talk to her. He never does.

And at a radio station in the Midwest, Ron tells David that the radio station has a wholesome reputation, so he asks David to keep the interview “clean.” But David alienates the DJ (played by David Huband) by giving bizarre and raunchy answers in the interview. The DJ suddenly ends the interview and changes David’s record to play something else.

After Ron and David leave the radio station, Ron predictably gets angry at David for ruining the interview. They argue and David shouts: “I feel like I’m in a carnival sideshow—without the carnival … I came here to be a star!”

David’s entitlement is completely obnoxious because he wants to be a star, but he doesn’t want to do any real work, and he’s disrespectful to people who are trying to help him in his career. Needless to say, the movie never shows David as a true songwriter. And aside from a scene where Ron and David gush to each other about artists who made a big impact on them (The Stooges for Ron, Vince Taylor for David), the relationship between Ron and David is mostly joyless to watch.

When Ron first met David, he promised David that he would eventually get David on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine. And so, there’s a time-wasting subplot about how David and Ron try to get a meeting with a high-ranking Rolling Stone editor named John Mickelson (played by Richard Clarkin), who doesn’t wait around for them when David and Ron are very late (more than an hour) for a scheduled appointment at a hotel in New York City. Ron finds out that John will be in Los Angeles, so Ron and David make a cross-country trip to try to meet up with John again.

“Stardust” has some very dumb and pointless scenes that seem concocted just to name drop Andy Warhol and Lou Reed in the movie. While in New York City, David goes to a party, where he meets Warhol (who’s never seen in the film) and leaves the party in an angry huff because he feels like Warhol disrespected him and used David for footage in a tacky short film. What did David do in this short film? Pantomime, of course.

The “Stardust” reference to former Velvet Underground singer Reed is even sillier. While Ron and David are still in New York City, they go to a Velvet Underground show at a nightclub. The band is performing on stage, but the movie doesn’t even have any music resembling the Velvet Underground in this scene.

The scene then shows Ron and David walking on the street after the performance, with David talking excitedly about how much he admires Lou Reed and how much he enjoyed talking to Lou after the show. Ron tells David that Lou actually left the Velvet Underground a few months earlier, and the singer whom David was talking to was actually Lou’s replacement Doug Yule. David then says he doesn’t care because the guy he was talking to was interesting anyway.

During this entire movie, David keeps having flashbacks to good and bad memories of his older brother Terry. And as David does more cocaine, he becomes increasingly paranoid that he’s going to be stricken with a mental illness. In one of the flashbacks, David overhears his parents Mrs. and Mrs. Jones (played by Geoffrey McGivern and Olivia Carruthers) saying that they think Terry is a lost cause, but they’re relieved that David doesn’t seem to have the “family curse” of schizophrenia.

After David’s U.S. tour ends and he comes back to England feeling disillusioned about his stalled career, David visits a psychiatric institution where Terry has been living. David watches a group therapy session where the patients are doing “drama therapy,” which is explained as working out emotional problems by pretending to be someone else. It’s here that David has a silent “a-ha” moment and it’s where the movie basically tells the audience that this is why the real-life Bowie constantly reinvented himself with different personas.

The movie ends with David unveiling a new persona that will redefine his career: Ziggy Stardust, a red-haired alien from outer space. And he has renamed his band the Spiders From Mars. The band members, whose speaking lines are in “Stardust” for less than 10 minutes, are depicted in the movie as hating their new costumes that they’ve been given to wear on stage. And then, Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars are born with their first performance.

Simply put: “Stardust” is a travesty on almost every level. Bowie was a first-rate artist. He and his legacy don’t deserve this mind-numbing trash.

IFC Films released “Stardust” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on November 25, 2020.

Barbie Dolls 2019: Take a look at Mattel’s new Barbies debuting this year

(Image courtesy of Mattel)

2019 Barbie 60th Anniversary Role Model Dolls (Photo courtesy of Mattel)

The year 2019 is the 60th anniversary of the Barbie doll. Here’s a look at the new Barbie dolls that Mattel is introducing this year. They include the first Barbie dolls with physical challenges: a Barbie doll in a wheelchair and a Barbie doll with a prosthetic leg. They are part of the Barbie Fashionistas collection. Another landmark for Barbie is the David Bowie Barbie, which is the first time that a female Barbie doll has adopted the persona of a male celebrity. (This gallery will be updated as new dolls are added.)

(All photos courtesy of Mattel)

2019 Tribeca Film Festival movie review: ‘I Want My MTV’

May 3, 2019

by Carla Hay

Animation image from MTV in “I Want My MTV” (Photo by Candy Kugel)

“I Want My MTV”

Directed by Tyler Measom and Patrick Waldrop

World premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City on May 1, 2019.

The documentary film “I Want My MTV” should come with a warning that the movie is primarily the story of MTV’s first decade in the 1980s. Even with that narrow view, the film misses the mark in many areas. The documentary relies too heavily on the words of the self-congratulatory executives who founded MTV, instead of taking a more responsible, investigative approach and seeking out a more diverse array of perspectives of people who are also part of MTV’s history. The film delivers if you want a predictable and superficial ride down memory lane—commentary on artists and old music videos are expected—but this documentary glosses over and ignores a lot of MTV’s real history.

The story of MTV (Music Television) has been already told in several books, news reports and articles. The network had humble beginnings, because it had a tiny start-up budget, and many people (including a few of its early executives) thought MTV was a bad idea that would fail. MTV’s early network-identification promo video that had NASA footage of the 1969 moon landing was prompted out of necessity because the footage was in the public domain (in other words, free), and MTV couldn’t really afford a fancy ad campaign at the time.  Launched on August 1, 1981, MTV started out as a 24-hour music network that initially wasn’t even available in a lot of big cities, such as New York, where MTV is headquartered.

MTV’s lack of availability on many cable systems was the impetus for the famous “I Want My MTV” ad campaign where major artists (such as Mick Jagger, Billy Idol, Cyndi Lauper, Boy George, The Police, David Bowie and The Who’s Pete Townshend) said the “I Want My MTV” slogan on camera, and urged people to call their local cable companies to add MTV to their channel lineups. Les Garland, who used to be a programming executive at MTV, takes credit for getting Jagger to do an “I Want My MTV” spot, by essentially convincing the money-minded Jagger that he would be filming a promotional video, not an ad. As a joke, Garland said he paid Jagger just $1 after the spot was filmed.

MTV’s music library also started off very small, as most of the initial videos available were from British artists (who were used to making music videos for shows like “Top of the Pops”) or American artists whose music videos usually consisted of cheaply filmed live performances with the studio recordings dubbed in post-production. The first two videos played on MTV exemplified these types of clips: the futuristic “Video Killed the Radio Star” from The Buggles (a British New Wave band) and the simple performance clip “You Better Run” from Pat Benatar, who was America’s top female rock star at the time.

Several artists who became popular on MTV in the early ‘80s are interviewed in the documentary, such as Benatar and her guitarist/husband Neil Geraldo; Idol; Sting (co-founder of The Police); Eurythmics members Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart; REO Speedwagon lead singer Kevin Cronin; and Devo lead singer Mark Mothersbaugh. Also interviewed are two of MTV’s original VJs: Mark Goodman (a radio vet who describes his MTV audition process as “a little creepy” because it was in a hotel room, not a TV studio) and Alan Hunter, a self-described failed actor who got the job, despite having a “terrible” audition and no experience in broadcasting or the music industry. (MTV’s other original VJs—Nina Blackwood and Martha Quinn—are not interviewed, although there is archival footage of all the original VJs in the documentary. J.J. Jackson, another original MTV VJ, died of a heart attack in 2004, at the age of 62.)

To its credit, the documentary does not shy away from the controversy over MTV’s programming decisions. In its first two years, the network was frequently accused of racism for not playing enough black artists. MTV’s all-white first executive team—which included John Lack, Bob Pittman, Gail Sparrow, Fred Seibert, Tom Freston, Judy McGrath, John Sykes and Andrew Setos (Garland joined MTV later, after he had a long stint in radio)—are all interviewed in this documentary. Various excuses are given for excluding top-selling black artists from MTV’s playlists in the network’s early years.

One frequently given excuse is that the original concept of MTV was that it was supposed to be a rock’n’roll music channel. However, it’s a weak excuse because among the few black artists played on MTV in its early years were non-rock acts such as Musical Youth, Eddy Grant and Herbie Hancock. Meanwhile, bigger artists such as Michael Jackson, Prince, Rick James and Earth, Wind & Fire were being ignored by MTV.

The documentary includes a clip from the notorious 1983 MTV interview that Bowie did with Goodman, where Bowie asks Goodman why so few black artists are played on MTV. Goodman uncomfortably explains that too many black artists on MTV might scare the audience, especially those in “middle America.” It’s an incredibly racist belief, not to mention a condescending insult that wrongfully stereotypes people in the Midwest as automatically more racist than people who live on the East Coast and West Coast. Bowie’s withering stare and curt response in the interview speak volumes of his disgust. In the documentary, a present-day Goodman admits to being embarrassed about the interview all these years later, and he offers a sheepish apology for it.

The Bowie/Goodman interview exposed the mentality of MTV executives at the time, but the former MTV executives interviewed for this documentary who were in charge of making those decisions are still indignant and in denial over their racism. It’s not too surprising, because people who want to be thought of as “liberal” and “open-minded” don’t want to admit on camera that they’ve been racist. The former MTV executives are quick to pat themselves on the back in this documentary (Sparrow calls herself and the other executives “trend-setters, risk-takers and rebels”), but they don’t properly acknowledge their old-fashioned bigoted beliefs that prevented a lot of people of color from being part of MTV in its early years.

One example of this hypocrisy is when Sparrow, with hatred still etched on her face, talks about how Rick James’ “Super Freak” video was unacceptable to MTV at the time because James reminded her of a pimp and she didn’t like the way women were portrayed in the video. Yet, she doesn’t mention that MTV was willing to play videos from numerous (white) heavy-metal bands that often showed women in much more degrading scenarios, such as barely clothed or locked up in cages. Maybe MTV executives like Sparrow just didn’t like to see a music video of a black man being a sex symbol with women of different races. James was an outspoken critic of MTV at the time for not playing enough black artists, so it’s likely that MTV also had an unofficial ban on James, out of spite.

One of the most irresponsible parts of the “I Want My MTV” documentary is how it fails to give the full story of how Michael Jackson broke the racial barrier at MTV. Pittman tries to rewrite MTV history in this documentary by saying about the racism accusations: “Michael Jackson single-handedly pulled us out of that controversy,” and that it was MTV’s idea to “start courting Michael Jackson.” He also makes it sound like MTV had the vision to play Jackson’s videos right when his “Thriller” album was hitting big. What Pittman and the documentary did not talk about was the well-documented fact that CBS/Epic Records (namely, record-label chief Walter Yetnikoff) demanded that MTV play Jackson’s “Billie Jean” video or else the record company would boycott MTV. When MTV caved in, and saw that Jackson became the network’s most-requested artist, that opened the doors for more black artists to be played on MTV.

Yetnikoff, who was not interviewed for this documentary, told more details about this controversy in his 2001 memoir, “Howling at the Moon,” as well as in several media interviews. His credible account of MTV playing Michael Jackson only after MTV was threatened with a boycott has also been verified by numerous non-MTV people in the music industry who were involved at the time, none of whom are interviewed in this documentary.

The movie mentions that as MTV’s popularity grew in the 1980s, tensions grew between MTV and record companies because the record companies eventually wanted MTV to pay licensing fees for the videos. However, this documentary did not interview anyone who worked at record companies at the time to give their perspective. Video-promotion executives, who were on the front lines of music-industry relations with MTV, are shamefully left out of this documentary. Unlike some big-name artists, these past and present record-company executives are not that hard to get for interviews, so not including them in this film just shows that these documentary filmmakers were too lazy to get this valuable insight or they just didn’t care.

And even though “I Want My MTV” addresses the issue of MTV excluding many top-selling black artists in the network’s early years, ironically, the documentary does some noticeable racial excluding of its own, since no women of color are interviewed in the documentary at all. The movie focuses primarily on MTV in the ‘80s, and gives a spotlight to a long list of artists from that era, so it’s mind-boggling that this documentary erases black female artists who had a big impact on MTV in the ‘80s—such as Tina Turner, Whitney Houston, Janet Jackson and Salt-N-Pepa—by not giving a spotlight to any of these women of color.

No disrespect to Tegan and Sara (who were never really big artists on MTV but are interviewed in this documentary anyway), but there are plenty of women of color who were more influential in MTV’s history who could have been interviewed for this documentary but weren’t. The few people of color in this film who are interviewed are black men who talk about hip-hop or “Yo! MTV Raps”: Fab 5 Freddy, Ed Lover and Run-DMC’s Darryl McDaniel, who says that Run-DMC was probably the first popular MTV rap act because Run-DMC incorporated a lot of rock music in its songs.

MTV’s influence in hard rock/heavy-metal’s popularity in the mid-to-late 1980s—as well as many of the genre’s sexist videos that got heavy airtime on MTV—are also addressed in the documentary. On the one hand, former MTV executive McGrath says that all that sexist content was “demoralizing.” On the other hand, she and other executives were responsible for choosing to give it so much airtime on MTV. Warrant’s “Cherry Pie” video (which shows model Bobbie Brown being blasted with a fire hose by members of the band wearing firefighter hats) is mentioned in the documentary as an example of the types of MTV-approved rock videos where women were frequently treated as nothing more than playthings and props. Poison lead singer Bret Michaels, who’s interviewed in the documentary, says the popular MTV videos that Poison made were all in good fun.

Heart guitarist Nancy Wilson offers a different perspective of how the testosterone-fueled, often-sexist hard rock videos that MTV favored had an effect on her own career. She and her lead-singer sister Ann Wilson (who co-founded the rock band Heart) became successful with Heart in the mid-‘70s, when they didn’t have to wear revealing clothing to sell records. But by the mid-‘80s, Heart’s record company was pressuring them to make sexpot videos with cleavage-baring outfits that the Wilson sisters say they now regret doing. Nancy Wilson says that a lot of that pressure was because of MTV’s preference of showing rock videos with scantily clad women.

Music-video directors are given minimal scrutiny in the documentary. Mark Pellington, an early MTV hire, is interviewed, and says he was hired even though he had no experience at the time. A few music-video directors who went on to become major film directors are barely mentioned in the documentary, such as David Fincher and Michael Bay. However, the film does talk about how Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” video (directed by John Landis) was a game-changer that impacted how videos were made, as budgets became larger and concepts became more elaborate.

In addition to “Thriller,” other music videos that are mentioned as the most-influential of the 1980s include a-ha’s “Take on Me,” Dire Straits’ “Money for Nothing” and Peter Gabriel’s “Sledgehammer.” And although there are numerous artists whose careers were boosted because their videos got played on MTV, the documentary mentions that a few artists had their careers damaged by this exposure. Billy Squier is singled out in particular, for his 1984 “Rock Me Tonite” video (in which he awkwardly dances and slithers around in a “Flashdance”-styled ripped tank top), which ruined his rock credibility, and his career was never the same.

The documentary shows that the end of MTV’s ’80s golden era was around 1987, when some of the original team of network executives and VJs began to leave. It was also around this time that MTV began introducing more non-music programs, such as the game show “Remote Control,” which had a then-unknown Adam Sandler as a cast member.

As former MTV executive Freston says in the documentary, reality TV was “a blessing and a curse” for MTV. Grammy-winning musician Jack Antonoff adds that he (just like many other people who grew up with MTV) became frustrated with the decrease in music content on MTV over the years. The documentary also interviews OK Go, Good Charlotte twins Benji and Joel Madden and indie rock twins Tegan and Sara to offer their perspectives of musicians who were toddlers or weren’t even born when MTV was launched. (By 2010, MTV removed the words “music television” from its logo.)

One of the biggest flaws in the documentary is how it barely mentions the impact of the annual MTV Video Music Awards, which launched in 1984. Many of MTV’s biggest pop-culture moments came from the MTV VMAs. Perhaps the filmmakers couldn’t get the rights to a lot of VMA footage, but that shouldn’t have prevented the documentary from giving more time to discuss the VMAs, other than a passing mention.

Because the focus of “I Want My MTV” is so heavily concentrated on 1980s-era MTV, the documentary breezes through mentions of MTV’s post-1980s programming, such as “The Real World,” “Singled Out” and “Jersey Shore.” Artists who became popular on MTV after the ‘80s are barely acknowledged, so don’t expect to see anything significant about Eminem, Nirvana, the Spice Girls, Beyoncé, Rihanna, Sean Combs, Jennifer Lopez, Kanye West, Lady Gaga, Britney Spears or any boy bands. Alice in Chains guitarist Jerry Cantrell and Tori Amos are among the few ’90s-era artists who are interviewed in the documentary. It’s briefly mentioned at the end of the film that YouTube  (which launched in 2005) has significantly decreased MTV’s influence, and YouTube is now the main outlet where people see music videos.

“I Want My MTV” could have been a better documentary if directors Tyler Measom and Patrick Waldrop didn’t let the film be dominated by executives who haven’t worked at MTV in years, and if the filmmakers included a wider variety of people whose careers were also significantly impacted by MTV. In order to do a truly comprehensive history of MTV, the documentary probably should have been an episodic series instead of a feature-length film. “I Want My MTV” also comes at a time when a lot of people don’t want MTV, because the network just isn’t that relevant to pop culture as it was in the 1980s and 1990s. But for people nostalgic about MTV’s glory days and looking for a thorough examination of MTV’s history, this documentary is ultimately an incomplete disappointment with a lot of valuable perspectives shut out of the film.

UPDATE: A&E will premiere “I Want My MTV” as part of the “Biography” series on September 8, 2020.

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