Michaeline: 1990s Bowie Talks About Commercial Creativity

And the mice from their million hoards brought the artists gold coins. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

And the mice from their million hoards brought the artists gold coins. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

This week, I discovered a charming little gem on YouTube about being creative. Hermann Vaske, a director, author and producer who is a member of the German Art Directors Club (according to his website), interviews David Bowie in the mid-nineties. The almost six-minute black-and-white clip is interspersed with cuts; the interview is mostly conducted with Bowie on a sofa facing the camera, and Vaske with his back to his subject, looking out the window in that not-confrontational-yet-confrontational style the Europeans do so well. The visuals are intense – don’t take your eyes off the screen, or you will miss an important by-play. (See video on YouTube here.)

I found the content was a starting point to provoke my own thoughts about creativity and style versus meaning. I particularly liked this exchange:

Hermann Vaske: (C)ertainly, one can call you the master of packaging and always coming up with new concepts. Is the content or the style in terms of this more important?
David Bowie: Um. Content is one thing, and packaging or style or “framing” is another. Some guy in advertising said something that’s really interesting. He said, “Product plus personality equals brand. I thought that was really cool (laughs). And I think maybe I try and apply that to what I do.
DB: Although, once the work is done, you then create a personality for it. And hopefully, then it becomes a sort of Bowie-ism afterwards.

How interesting that the work comes first, then the personality or the shaping of the output to make it into a product comes later! One would think that work comes out of a certain personality, but I can also see how so many creative concepts seem like gifts from nowhere, and much of the work is trying to convey that essential meaning through the filters of our own personalities and limited skills.

I just watched The Hunger (beautiful review here from Shock Till You Drop) this week, too, with David Bowie as an aging hybrid vampire, Catherine DeNeuve as a pure, immortal vampire and Susan Sarandon as the sleep and age researcher who crosses their paths. In the interview, Bowie talked about the difference between that movie’s director, and the director of Basquiat, where Bowie played Basquiat’s mentor, Andy Warhol.

HV: In your acting, you work with different directors; you just finished a film with Julian Schnabel (DB: Yeah.) playing Andy Warhol. You did a picture with Tony Scott called The Hunger (DB: Yes.) who was a commercial director. (DB: Yes.)
HV: Did you find differences in working with people that come out of advertising, and filmmakers that are feature filmmakers like David Lynch or painters like (originally painters, I have to say) like Julian?
DB: The most interesting thing, I think, the difference between those particular two, say, take Tony Scott and Julian. Um, is that Tony’s priority was creating a complicated and asymmetrical frame, and the visual was nearly all of what he was doing. He didn’t particularly, it struck me, have great ideas on the through-line of the story. It was about moving one interesting visual against another. (Insert: Montage of great visuals from The Hunger.) One would have thought that that’s how Julian would work as well but it didn’t. Julien, in fact, had a far more traditional idea of filmmaking. And it was about narrative and it was about performance. Um. I wouldn’t say the visual was secondary with Julian but definitely the momentum of the story he was trying to tell had equal priority to the visual.

Having seen The Hunger, I can see how well just visuals play. To tell the truth, I hate the traditional vampire story, but here, the vampires were extremely vulnerable AND the cinematography was absolutely riveting. It makes up for some of the unsatisfying story twists, and the disappointing lack of David Bowie visuals (Bowie is prominent in the first half hour; Sarandon and DeNeuve are very beautiful in the last hour).

I would certainly encourage anyone to rent it. (Not sure I would recommend buying it, though. Definitely a “try-before-you-buy” work of art.) Basquiat is next on my list, if I can find it at the video store.

Well, anyway, this film is not just five minutes and 45 seconds of European art house thoughts about creativity. Watch the clip. The ending is pure Bowie genius. Laughing in the face of death. Caffeine and nicotine accessories sold separately.

Happy Saturday!

2 thoughts on “Michaeline: 1990s Bowie Talks About Commercial Creativity

  1. Michaeline – that’s a really interesting point about separating the content from the framing, as well as looking at which comes first. It makes sense. That is kind of similar to the concept in my day-job where we get information and then figure out the “spin” we want to put on it to get to the desired result.

    Looking forward to watching the video link when I have a chance. I haven’t seen The Hunger, but “the vampires were extremely vulnerable AND the cinematography was absolutely riveting” makes me want to give it a try as well.

    • Yeah, we were taught to Follow the Girls on the first draft, and that’s probably the best way to write a first draft. But at some point, we have to think about the audience — even if the audience is sympathetic Beta-readers. And we don’t want to turn them off, I suppose? Although, with a lot of David Bowie lyric, he really doesn’t give a good-goddamn if anyone gets it. Sometimes I have to read interviews to figure out what he’s talking about. The music is extremely accessible, though, I find. Content and packaging. Although . . . do I have lower standards for music?

      Quite a conundrum, all the way around (-:.

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