D.A. Pennebaker's account of David Bowie's 1973 concert at London's Hammersmith Odeon is an intermittently kinetic immersion that suffers from a conspicuous lack of imagination. The show capped Bowie's wildly successful Ziggy Stardust tour, which firmly cemented the glam star's place in the rock pantheon. Like most concert documentaries, Pennebaker's film shines occasionally, but largely from the reflected light of its subject. The movie suffers from a fundamental mismatch of aesthetics. On one hand you have Pennebaker, a pioneer of cinéma vérité documentary filmmaking. On the other, you have Bowie, one of the most flamboyant and theatrical performers in rock history. With an electrifying subject in their sights, Pennebaker and his crew choose to sit back and let the cameras run. Considering Bowie's preoccupations with identity and persona, the movie's failure to contextualize its subject is a glaring oversight. Pennebaker's uninspired approach is compounded by technical shoddiness. Shot in 16 mm, the movie is a jittery smear that evinces little evidence of a greater visual design or intellectual approach. Certainly interesting as a time-capsule artifact, Ziggy Stardust is ultimately a disappointingly drab portrait of a rock icon at his peak.
by Elbert Ventura review