There is no denying that David Bowie was a huge figure in British culture. A man of many talents, as well as his many successful albums, he also took on a number of on screen roles, bringing the same unique style to these that he demonstrated through his music. Whether in small productions, or large scale blockbusters, Bowie’s performance in these films helped to secure him a place in the hearts of millions for years to come.
One such classic is his very first role, staring in the 1976 film The Man Who Fell to Earth. The film details the experiences of Thomas Jerome Newton, played by Bowie, a humanoid alien who has come to Earth on a mission to get water for his planet, which is suffering from a terrible drought. In all honesty, the film is rather surreal, which is what makes it engaging, as well as the tough topics tackled, including: Sex, death and addiction. Within this, Bowie’s soft spoken characterisation draws you in, genuinely making you feel for his character and helping to make this more than your standard cheap, 1970s, sci-fi romp.
Later in his career he took on his first role in a childhood classic, performing the introduction for the The Snowman (1982). This introduction was one of three created to open the film, but is by far the most commonly used. It shows Bowie exploring an attic as he explains how he used to build snowmen as a child, before finding the scarf the young boy in the film wears. He then assumes the role of the boy, now fully grown, narrating about how much snow fell the day ‘he’ built the snowman. Whether you’re 5 or 105, this will always melt your heart. It was the first time we really saw past the rocker image Bowie, showing a much sweeter side of him.
Still focusing on childhood classics, and one of his best known performances, Bowie took on the role of the Goblin King, Jareth, in the 1986 cult classic Labyrinth. This film follows the journey of 15 year old Sarah as she struggles to complete a labyrinth in order to rescue her baby brother who has been kidnapped by Jareth. As the villain of the film we are not meant to like the Goblin King, however with Bowie’s portrayal he has a strange appeal and allure to him, almost bringing about empathy when he faces his final rejection by Sarah. He also wrote all the songs featured in the film, and you can tell; they are show stopping. This combined with wit, imaginative scenery and those incredible puppets, has made this a fan favourite.
As well as starring roles, Bowie also took on a few cameo parts. In 2001 he appeared as himself in the comedy film Zoolander, serving as a judge for the ‘walk-off’ between Derek and Hansel, and certainly making an impression as he disqualified Derek for managing to nearly castrate himself with his underwear. Later in 2006 he took on the role of Nikola Tesla in Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige, giving the historical figure an air of mystery and charisma as he warns about the risks of obsessions.
In short, David Bowie was an extremely talented man, who has left his mark on the world in a number of ways. His music will surely resonate with fans forever, while his image and work on the screen will continue to enthral and entertain viewers for years to come. He will be sorely missed, but never forgotten.