David Bowie is one of the most innovative and inventive artists of the past century, and therefore plenty of his fans and admirers are always curious to know exactly what inspired him. From literature to visual art to the film world, Bowie was such a multi-dimensional artist that his inspirations might just surprise you as he found joy in a multitude of art forms.
Although he was always a musician first, Bowie also appeared in over 30 movies, television shows and theatrical productions. Performances in iconic works of cinema such as The Man Who Fell to Earth and Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence have led many critics to believe that he could have made it as a successful actor if he had chosen to do so. His songs in soundtracks of films from Quentin Tarantino, David Lynch and Wes Anderson also all add to his cinematic contribution.
“All the films I have done, the theatre work, I haven’t learnt a thing,” Bowie joked in an interview. Pressed further about his motivation to go ahead with an acting project, the star replied, “Generally, the director [attracts me to a role].
“If I feel I’m gonna learn something working with that director, whatever the role is, I generally say yes to it…It’s good to watch how those people work, how they work with their crews, what kind of relationships they have with their crews, how much they depend on who [and] how much actually comes from themselves.” As well as appreciating the craft of making movies, he also had a vast array of favourite flicks.
When it comes to his favourite films, his tastes are just as eclectic as you might expect. “He loved Buñuel, Cocteau, Fassbinder, but he also loved Tony Hancock and the Ealing comedies,” said Absolute Beginners director Julien Temple back in 2017. “He could watch Tony Hancock’s The Rebel on a weekly basis and he would laugh and laugh and laugh.”
Not only did he have an eclectic and varied personal taste, but film routinely influenced his work as an artist. It’s no secret that ‘Space Oddity’ was inspired by Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Oddity. Bowie himself even went as far as to say that Kubrick “predicted my lifestyle for the 70s.” He said of the song specifically, “In England, it was always presumed that it was written about the space landing because it kind of came to prominence around the same time. But it actually wasn’t. It was written because of going to see the film 2001, which I found amazing. I was out of my gourd anyway, I was very stoned when I went to see it, several times, and it was really a revelation to me. It got the song flowing. It was picked up by British television and used as the background music for the landing itself. I’m sure they really weren’t listening to the lyric at all.”
Kubrick has influenced Bowie even beyond 2001, with his film A Clockwork Orange also having a vast impact on the musician. the Starman has given nods to the influence of A Clockwork Orange on the proto-punk street gangs that bolstered his 1974 post-Ziggy album Diamond Dogs.
As for some of the other favourites on his list, he was also a comedy fan. He told Rolling Stone in 1979, “There’s still a lot of Buster Keaton in everything I do.” The General is one of his most beloved films.
It seems that no genre eluded him, though, as he also had a soft spot for the indie cult dramas, championing films like Danny Boyle’s classic Trainspotting, as well as the simply brilliant David Lynch creation Eraserhead. Bowie would work with Lynch on the Twin Peaks sequel and thought highly of the director. Just as Bowie was mesmerised by Lynch’s artistic vision, Lynch remained a fan of the musician’s work too.
“He was unique, like Elvis was unique,” Lynch explained in an interview. “There’s something about him that’s so different from everybody else. I only met him during the time I worked with him and just a couple of other times, but he was such a good guy, so easy to talk to and regular. I just wish he was still around and that I could work with him again.”
And his film legacy lives on, as his son is actually film director Duncan Jones, the director of films like Moon and Source Code.
If you want to get the full sense of some of Bowie’s favourite films, we may not be able to compile them all, but here are plenty to get you started.
David Bowie’s favourite films:
- 2001: A Space Oddity
- A Clockwork Orange
- The Rebel
- Memories of Underdevelopment
- The Spirit of the Beehive
- The General
- Un chien andalou
- The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari
- Le Avventure Di Robinson Crusoe
- The Elephant Man