“David would be very impressed with this film,” he added.
What Morgen didn’t realize was how much making the film would change him, especially after he had a debilitating heart attack, at 47. He flatlined and was in a coma for a week, he said in a phone interview. He emerged with a mind-set that shaped his approach to the story and refocused his own life, as a married father of three. Perversely, the driven Bowie helped Morgen, now 53, a fellow workaholic, find equilibrium.
And he needed it, when he was editing, entirely solo, during the first peak of Covid (his health scare made him extra-cautious). “I was sitting alone in this building, making a film about an artist whose stock in trade is isolation, and how to channel it creatively,” he said. “So I felt that he was consistently describing the world that I was inhabiting.”
Early on, he had visited Visconti in his New York studio. “We were in the room where he recorded David doing ‘Blackstar,’” the album Bowie released two days before his death, Morgen said. “It was quite intense.” Visconti played him “Cygnet Committee,” a prog-y folk-rock track off Bowie’s second album, stripping out vocals. The song, written when Bowie was around 22, ends with a repeated lyric: “I want to live.”
“David was crying throughout the performance,” Morgen said.
That sort of emotion — ravenous and vulnerable — set the tone for the film. “Moonage Daydream” was five years in the making. It took Morgen and his team over a year just to transfer hours of concert and performance footage, images of Bowie’s paintings and other content from the Bowie estate, along with additional footage acquired by Morgen’s archivist, and about two years to watch it all.
But the movie is hardly completist. There are no interviews with anyone else, and no mention of, for example, Iggy Pop, whom Bowie holed up with in Berlin during one of his most creatively fertile periods, or Nile Rodgers, who helped him reinvent his career as a pop artist in the ’80s. The sexual voraciousness and drug addiction that usually feature heavily in Bowie’s story are referenced only with montages and jumpy interview clips. (“Do I need to spell it out? It seems kind of blatant to me,” Morgen said of one where Bowie appears sweating and grinning maniacally.) Though the movie dips into his childhood and family, it glosses over his personal life until his marriage to Iman, the model and entrepreneur.