Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars has all the elements of a great rock 'n' roll movie: a charismatic star at his artistic peak, a concert that marked the end of an era, and director D.A. Pennebaker, the documentarian behind Don't Look Back, arguably the greatest music documentary ever made. Yet for decades, the film was available only in a video version hampered by muddy sound that did irreparable damage to an otherwise phenomenal performance by David Bowie and his powerhouse band. Thankfully, for the film's 30th anniversary, Bowie had the film remixed and remastered by Tony Visconti, the producer behind many of his classic '70s albums. The result miraculously resurrects a seminal moment in rock history, elevating Ziggy Stardust into the landmark cultural event it always should have been. Originally intended as a half-hour showcase for a new videodisc format called "Select-A-Vision," the project was extended to feature length once Pennebaker realized just how spectacularly Bowie's theatrical glam-rock would translate to film. Scrawny, ghostly pale, smeared with rag-doll makeup, sporting a weird half-mullet the same freakish orange as Ronald McDonald's hair, and outfitted in garish thrift-store finery, Bowie makes for an unlikely heartthrob, but the moment he steps onstage, the orgiastic rapture of his audience becomes understandable. The new mix of Ziggy Stardust sounds terrific, lending urgency and force to the uptempo numbers and heartbreaking clarity to haunting anthems like "All The Young Dudes," "Changes," and "Rock & Roll Suicide." The film only begins to feel self-indulgent in its last half-hour, which begins with an interminable guitar solo from the great Mick Ronson and climaxes with an unexpected burst of miming–yes, miming–from Bowie. Part of glam-rock's liberating appeal was that it made good on rock's initial promise of infinite freedom. Where rock 'n' roll said it was okay to disobey authority figures, drive fast cars, and chase girls, glam-rock told kids they could also dress like acid-addled transvestite chorus girls and pretend they were from outer space if that was their bag. Ziggy Stardust celebrates that right to self-determination and glittery reinvention even as its fixation with death and suicide acknowledges that every bright star eventually burns out or fades away. In addition to glorious new sound, the Ziggy Stardust DVD includes a bemused, affectionate audio commentary by Visconti and Pennebaker. Even without special features, however, the package would still do justice to a concert and film that serve as an elegy for the glam-rock movement Bowie so vividly embodied–and, with a few simple words, killed in its infancy.
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