Saturday, August 09, 2014

David Bowie in "Ricochet"

"Ricochet" is a 1984 documentary that follows David Bowie on the Asian leg of his "Serious Moonlight" tour, in support of Let's Dance. It is a strange film in many ways, showing what the viewer might expect, but containing also within it a strange thread. The film follows Bowie as he arrives, explores and performs in Hong Kong, Singapore and Bangkok. Throughout his journey, there are moments when another figure, a man invariably wearing dark glasses (even at night) is shown, and usually in the vicinity of Bowie himself. Each time this figure is shown, often expressionless and somewhat sinister, the image becomes still on the bespectacled face and is transformed to a video still, as if the image is being shown on a tube-style television, along with a harsh clicking sound. These brief interruptions to the narrative of the film add an sense that something will happen to the protagonist of the film; there is some suspense injected into what is otherwise a shallow look at a segment of a tour.

Bowie himself appears, in some sense, to appreciate the people with whom he engages: not long after the start of the film, a reporter asks the singer if he always had a fascination with the East, to which he replies that he has. The film shows this fascination. The singer asks a taxi driver in Singapore about local laws and ways of carrying oneself. Bowie asks an interviewer in Bangkok how people there might manifest rebellion. He wants to know how a resident in Hong Kong is anticipating the handover of the British Colony to the Chinese in 1997 (the resident seems to be somewhat negative regarding the handover, suggesting that professionals who have the means are planning to emigrate, while those in the lower classes are not--this will destroy what she calls the "infrastructure" of the area). But with this concern comes a strange side to the singer as well: immediately after asking the question regarding the handover of Hong Kong, there is a sighting of the sinister figure, and Bowie then asks about an asian pop song from the 1950s, and wonders if the Hong Kong group knows anything about it. They all begin to sing, and Bowie is smiling. Political and economic discussions are over for now.

There is an accompanying narrative in the Hong Kong segment, where a trio of young people, who make up a sort of Bowie cover band, are trying to save up enough money with which to buy tickets to the concert. One of the musicians is having a lot of trouble getting enough money for a ticket, first attempting to sell some of his vinyl records and finally asking his friend's boss for a loan. Interspersed with this story is a moment with Bowie and one of his handlers discussing ticket prices for the concert there, mentioning that they need to balance the price of tickets with a full house of ten thousand attendees at both nights of concerts in the city. They do not lower ticket prices.

In Singapore, Bowie wishes to visit an older part of the city, and a taxi driver brings him to a hotel which appears to be colonial in its architecture and style; Bowie is seemingly not interested in "true" or "traditional" remnants of these areas. It is in the hotel that he encounters another of these sinister figures. In what appears as a humourous staging of a scene, Bowie wishes to enter a rehearsal of traditional Chinese Opera, but his entry is barred, forcing him to attend the performance in the evening, a feat which, for him, is "difficult." In Bangkok, he sees another figure at the airport, who seems to take the car for which Bowie and his entourage were thought to be destined.

The climax of the film seems to come when Bowie enters what appears to be a strip club in Bangkok, in which he encounters the sinister figure again. The singer seems to make the connection that all of these men, with their dark glasses, are versions of himself. Immediately before the live performance, presumably in Bangkok, the video still of the sinister figure is shown again, as Bowie begins to sing his song, "Fame." The lyrics to "Fame" suggest a kind of love/hate relationship to the lifestyle that Bowie is living throughout the documentary film. In the song, the singer asks why one might question his rejection of this fame in the first place, while immediately confirming that "fame," a sort of embodied figure, is in fact unfazed; Bowie cannot "shake," or get rid of, "fame." The sinister figure in the sunglasses is Bowie's fame, now at one with him and unable to be left behind. It follows him unmercifully.

The most interesting notion, in a somewhat uninteresting film, is Bowie's epiphany (if one calls it such) in the club, when he realizes that these fragments of figures that have been following him, are actually himself. This is a crack, a break, in the celebrity that we see throughout the film. He shows a weakness here, a sort of panic in realizing that there is no escape from the fame that has engulfed him. His performance of "Fame" ends with him aggressively shouting the title just before the credits of the film roll on the screen.

"Ricochet" was directed by Gerry Troyna. For more, see Ben Slater's very informative blog entry here.

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