David Bowie, an artist who went on to sell well over 100million records and star in a series of highly successful cinematic pictures, began his acting career in the lesser-known short film The Image. Despite becoming one of the biggest pop stars the world has ever known, acting was incredibly close to the Starman’s heart.
As such, we’ve been taking a look back at some of Bowie’s great roles in film. While of course the first that comes to mind is his role as the Goblin King Jareth in Labyrinth, Bowie has always provided himself with some serious roles too, once taking on the role of Joseph Merrick in the on-stage production of The Elephant Man—but this role shows off yet another side to Bowie.
The film, Bowie’s first major appearance, is a short horror film starring the then-20-year-old aspiring singer as a painting which has come to life to haunt its artist and create general terror. Directed by Michael Armstrong and shot entirely in black and white, The Image also starred Michael Byrne and remains one of the few short films ever to receive a certified ‘X’ Rating due to its perceived violent content.
In the short 14-minute film, a young artist played by Byrne is painting a portrait of a man who looks like Bowie when Bowie himself appears. The synopsis reads: “A troubled artist is haunted by a ghostly young man who appears to step right out of one of the artist’s paintings.” A brief summary, which was included on the cover of the film’s script, reads: “A study of the illusionary reality world within the schizophrenic mind of the artist at his point of creativity.”
Apparently, as payment for appearing in the film, Bowie received “around 10 quid a day” for his role. “It got an X-certificate. I think it was the first short that got an X-certificate. For its violence, which in itself was extraordinary,” Armstrong later said of The Image.
Bowie, nowhere near reaching the height of his fame, visited a local cinema screening of the film upon its release and later reported back to Armstrong about how “hilarious” he found the mystified reaction of the viewers around him who struggled to contend with the horror project. “My first true film appearance was in a movie called The Image, an underground black and white avant-garde thing done by some guy,” Bowie later said on reflection.
“He wanted to make a film about a painter doing a portrait of a guy in his teens and the portrait comes to life and, in fact, turns out to be the corpse of some bloke. I can’t remember all the plot, if indeed it had a plot, but it was a 14 minute short and it was awful.”
Don’t let that put you off though, see the film, below.