It was July the 3rd in 1973 when David Bowie performed the final concert on his Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars tour, which would go down in history as one of his finest and not only that, one of the most historic in light of what he said to the audience just before the encore. Starting at the beginning, we watch a selection of fans assemble outside London's Hammersmith Odeon, many of them dressed up like their idol with bright clothes and makeup, as Bowie's wife Angie arrives in a limousine and walks between the crowd to the stage door, signing autographs along the way. Inside the dressing room, the star puts on his own makeup and dresses in preparation...
This was released nine years after the farewell Ziggy Stardust concert, by which time director D.A. Pennebaker had time to clean it up and re-edit it, for it had been barely released under the title Bowie '73 back at a more contemporary point, though it seems nobody was very happy with it. In its spruced up incarnation for its re-release, it garnered a reputation as one of the greatest concert movies ever made, yet not everyone was of that opinion: seemed even after the remastering this remained just too dark and dimly lit and the sound that bit too muddy for a truly satisfying experience, never mind one which made you feel as if you were actually there in that heaving, perspiring audience all worked up by Bowie's music.
Certainly that audience was on this evidence mostly made up of teenage girls and young women writhing in the throes of some kind of overwhelming sexual appreciation of the tunes, or at least that was who Pennebaker preferred to train his camera on, when you could make them out of the general murk that was. Every so often you got a glimpse of a bloke who was jostled but apparently enjoying himself, though otherwise it appeared the director had seen the hordes of Beatlemaniacs and wished to make parallels between Bowie's burgeoning superstardom and that of the Fab Four, which meant men were less important, somewhat ironic considering the performer's pansexual approach which scandalised certain members of the public while attracting legions of others, fans and imitators alike.
But what was happening on the stage? Here too, the lighting evidently had not been crafted with a view to allowing a cinema audience to pick out precisely what was going on, therefore if you were used to the sort of concert movie that had been ushered in by Madonna with Truth or Dare, that added a lot of backstage clips then some drilled to perfection manoeuvres for the cameras in the arenas, you were not going to get on with Bowie's antics here as well as you would your average twenty-first century variation designed to make the stars look their very best. On the other hand, should you prefer to soak up the gloomy, beam of light-strewn visuals of a more authentic to 1973 atmosphere, you might prefer this.
And of course, you might prefer the music here to that of One Direction, Justin Bieber or Katy Perry, to pluck at random a few names who followed in this movie's footsteps. The mixture of footage from behind the scenes, making us privy to what the star is really like (though remains unilluminating here), and a wealth of scenes of the star belting out the tunes was the template all others followed, not unique to Pennebaker but certainly popularised by him. The songs from Bowie's earlier career are strong, and with all the technical wizardry to remaster the original recordings clearer and maybe even more tuneful this was about as good as the concert was going to sound, though that was not enough for everyone, in which case they would be advised to stick with the albums. As for Bowie, he looked to be having a whale of a time, strutting, prancing, flashing his arse, indulging in mime, palling around with legendary guitarist Mick Ronson (who pulls some extraordinary faces), every bit the rock peacock in those elaborate costumes, all building up to a bombshell which wasn't, really.