DVD Review: David Bowie Rare and Unseen

The latest in an ongoing series that has seen DVD releases spotlighting the Beatles, John Lennon, the Rolling Stones and others, David Bowie Rare and Unseen takes a slightly different approach. Drawing upon interview clips, the presentation cross-cuts back and forth between decades and locations to create its narrative.

What this means in practical terms is that the viewer sees a longish except of an idiosyncratic interview Bowie did with Russell Harty in 1976, and then mid-point of that interview, it switches to a turn-of-the-century interview, then back again. While this technique could be used to, so to speak, trip up the subject, to point out inconsistencies in his views etc., that’s not so much what’s done here.

The Harty interview is the piece around which most of he video is structured. In it Bowie is seen to be ever-so-slightly evasive, but in a justifiable way. When Harty hamfistedly tries to draw him out about his religious views, Bowie demurs. Harty presses him as to why, and Bowie replies that a short interview (done via transatlantic video hookup) is not a suitable venue for such a weighty discussion. Harty is forced to agree.

Viewers expecting to see a detached, aloof, pretentious Bowie may come away surprised. While in some of the earlier clips he does seem to place a careful emphasis on how his is being portrayed, in the later interviews he’s disarming, self-assured, relaxed and open. A bit surprisingly, Bowie comes of as quite likable and down to earth (so to speak).

Speaking of which, discussion of his involvement in Nicoals Roeg’s film The Man Who Fell to Earth is a centerpiece of the Harty footage. Even then, Bowie makes it clear that he’s not forsaking his music career for an acting one. He gamely fields Harty’s often impertinent questions, and keeps his cool when the same query – slightly reworded — is lobbed at him.

Rather than focus heavily (and predictably) on the Ziggy Stadust era, David Bowie Rare and Unseen tends instead to focus more (via chronologically bookending interviews) on the Berlin era. That period was among Bowie’s most creatively fertile and groundbreaking, yielding the albums “Heroes,” Low and Lodger. And while it might not be the first period the casual Bowie fan might wish to know more about, it’s arguably the artist’s most fascinating and artifice-free period. And not coincidentally, it’s a phase that got less media coverage, hence its 21st century rarity and unseen-ness.

A tiny bit of rehearsal footage is included, with brief clips of an interview with guitarist Carlos Alomar. Save that, there’s no actual Bowie music on this DVD. A number of times, early onstage footage of Bowie features overdubbed audio performances from one Steve Riks. Riks is something of a YouTube sensation for his musical impersonations of well-known artists. While his creepy mugging McCartney clips are cringeworthy, his ersatz-Bowie recordings aren’t half bad. They’re mostly stripped-down Unplugged style renditions of early material. They don’t really add much (if anything) to the quality of David Bowie Rare and Unseen, but neither do they ruin things. And without them the DVD would be all but music-free, so there.

For viewers interested in some, well, rare and previously unseen interview clips of David Bowie, this disc is worth a view. While it won’t fill in large gaps in your understanding of the man and his music, it may send you in search of the DVD of The Man Who Fell to Earth, or the Berlin-period albums. Either effort will be a worthy and rewarding endeavor.

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I have a material connection because I received a sample or review copy, or an item of nominal value that I can keep for consideration in preparing to write this content. I was/am expected to return this item after my review.