Innovative, Trendsetting, Singular – DAVID BOWIE IS

– By Caitlin C. Miller

For those who pay attention to pop culture, many obvious and accurate comparisons have been made between David Bowie and Brian Slade, the fictional glam rock legend from the film Velvet Goldmine. It makes sense – the character was certainly modeled after Bowie’s early career. But after viewing David Bowie Is, the Victoria and Albert Museum’s documentary of its internationally acclaimed exhibit of the same name, the icon seems more like a mid-century Jay Gatsby – a man who, even in his earliest days, painstakingly created himself, designing himself down to the last detail. It’s apparent in the sumptuous costumes, over 60 of them, on display. But the exhibit is not just about the costumes, it also highlights Bowie’s childhood ambitions, his evolving writing process (alongside his actual handwritten lyrics) and his very personal struggle with fame.

The film is a lot like the exhibition: immersive and multi-layered. There is so much material included in the exhibit, and the film does an incredible job of giving the viewer the feeling that they are actually in London, walking through it. The footage of the exhibit is interspersed with clips from live performances, vintage interviews and a few of his 20 cinematic appearances. The documentary also includes insightful commentary by artists, writers, musicians and designers who have worked with Bowie over the years.

Bowie’s career is known for innovation and trendsetting, combining pop and rock music with stage theatricality in a way that few performers could replicate, and in interviews, fans going through the exhibit on the final day in London talk about how David Bowie and his personas and presence literally changed their lives.

The traveling exhibit will be at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago September 23 – January 4. The documentary film, David Bowie Is, will be shown at the Film Bar in Downtown Phoenix September 23 – October 2.  For more information, visit

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