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The huge influence of Stanley Kubrick on David Bowie

David Bowie will remain one of pop culture’s most imposing figures for decades to come. His influence can be felt not only across the world of music but across the world at large. Finding fame in the late 1960s and ’70s before establishing himself as one of the most charismatic and creative songwriters of his generation, as well as a gifted actor and director. His love affair with film is well known, and some of his most wondrous inspirations have come from that particular part of the art world. Buster Keaton was long cited as a huge influence on Bowie, as was Tony Hancock. However, one man had an even greater effect on the singer — Stanley Kubrick.

American auteur Stanley Kubrick is constantly counted among the greatest filmmakers of all time, known for his ambitious artistic vision and relentless pursuit of perfection. Over his brilliant career, Kubrick created several masterpieces like 2001: A Space Odyssey and The Shining which are now considered defining works of their genre and have become an indispensable part of the cinematic tradition.

Kubrick’s role as one of the most inspirational people in cinema is akin to Bowie’s in music. Both were meticulous in their creations, giving themselves entirely to the projects they were creating and pushing themselves and their collaborators to breaking point when hard at work, and both took inspiration from the artist world around them.

It was through Stanley Kubrick’s work that Bowie managed to find the proper articulation of what he wanted to achieve as a creator, leading him to unimaginable revelations within pop music. There are flecks of Kubrick’s influence throughout much of Bowie’s early work. One of his films ended up inspiring David Bowie to write a song that would not only be his breakthrough in the world of music back in 1969 but still land as a potent piece of pop over 50 years later. Of course, we’re talking about ‘Space Oddity’.

The song, originally released as a 7-inch single on 11 July 1969, was the world’s first proper dose of Bowie as we know and love him and was the opening track of his second studio album, David Bowie. Considering the release date of the single, just nine days before the USA would land on the moon, many people assumed that it was through NASA that Bowie had been inspired. The moment would mark a collective turning head of the world, as the moon landing had gathered the imaginations of the earth and told them all to look skyward. Necks craned to the heavens there was only one man to soundtrack this event—the Starman. However, the truth is that Bowie was far more interested in the beauty of film than he was the science of achieving it.

“In England, it was always presumed that it was written about the space landing,” revealed Bowie during an interview, “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.” Like so many other audience members watching 2001: A Space Odyssey, he arrived at the cinema a little worse for wear: “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.” Like so many other audience members, he left with the endless possibilities of space exploration running through his head.

Later, Bowie would claim that Kubrick’s depiction of space exploration would “predicted my lifestyle for the ’70s”. Despite contradictory clarification from Bowie, there is also a hint that his famous stage name could have come from the Kubrick picture, with the central astronaut’s name, David Bowman, providing a striking resemblance to Bowie’s.

The influence continued with Kubrick’s next film, A Clockwork Orange, the ultra-violent adaptation of Anthony Burgess’ dystopian novel. The 1971 film, starring Malcolm McDowell as the leader of a vicious gang of ‘droogs’, Alex, would end up as a blueprint for Bowie’s classic album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spider From Mars. Kubrick’s vision of near-future Britain was like dropping dynamite down a well; an explosion of fluid ideas exploded from the earth, with Bowie taking the delinquent menace of the production into his own work.

The singer would lift some of Alex and his gang’s ‘Nadsat’ language, dropping snippets throughout the album while also adopting the chaotic glamour of their outfits. The references would continue on in his later work, too, appearing on his Diamond Dogs record as the inspiration for the street gangs that run rampant throughout the album.

Kubrick’s influence would become just another piece of the Bowie puzzle as the singer found new inspirations to lean on in future albums. However, he paid tribute to the filmmaker and A Clockwork Orange on his final LP Blackstar within the song ‘Girl Loves Me’ adopting his ‘Nadsat’ language and bidding a fond farewell to the presence of the director in his life.

There aren’t any records of the two auteurs ever meeting. However, we’d bet if they did, they would have shared a joke, a drink and most likely a singular vision.