David Bowie Is Happening Now (David Bowie Is)
Director Hamish Hamilton, Katy Mullan
Language English
Opens Jan. 24

“David Bowie Is Happening Now” is a strange hybrid. Rather than focusing on Bowie himself, it documents an exhibition held at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum in 2013 of artifacts from the singer’s long and varied career. The exhibition itself was a huge success — immersive and imaginatively presented — but the film suffers from this additional degree of mediation, especially with regard to things like handwritten lyrics or costumes, which require getting up close and personal to feel that “touched by the hand of greatness” mystique.

I’d readily agree that Bowie was a “genius,” a “cultural icon” and maybe even “the greatest pop star who ever lived” — certainly one who flung open new doors for generations to come — but it gets embarrassing to hear people say this over and over again. Even theoretically interesting speakers, such as Jarvis Cocker or designer Kansai Yamamoto, offer only banal remarks.

The film does offer up a few curiosities: things like storyboards (drawn by Bowie) from a proposed movie version of “Diamond Dogs,” or an early 1960s television clip of Bowie as a “spokesperson” for The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Long-Haired Men. Bowie fans will find a little to chew on, but this is not the place for newbies to start.

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