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Friday, 5 February 2016

Paul Harris posits an alternate cinephiliac history of David Bowie and the movies - Number 3

A DAVID BOWIE PHANTOM FILMOGRAPHY  (3)                             
The projects that never saw the light of day 

Number 17 Octobriana
I had never heard of Octobriana until I read about it in a Bowie biography. But he knew all about it. A Russian comic strip heroine with a Red Star adorning her head,named after the October Revolution and based upon a comic strip by a Czech defector Petr Sadecky. He attempted to set up a movie version in 1974 which would have starred fashion model, nightclub fixture and future Eurodisco queen Amanda Lear. Lear fancied herself as part of the jet set of the time (Lear Jet ???), encouraged gossip that close pal Salvador Dali had financed a sex change operation, hung out with Bryan Ferry, etc. etc. before gliding into Bowie's glam rock phase orbit .

Bowie was to have produced this project in a hands-off manner through his management company MainMan. But his enthusiasm was not shared by anyone else in his retinue and the project was abandoned before it really happened, so typical of the Bowie modus operandi at the time (remember the Stranger In A Strange Land experience) After all there were tour schedules that had to adhered to, adoring fans in need of the excitement only he could generate, new territories to conquer. The constant touring acted as a constant excuse or sometime an easy way out if you felt you were getting in over your head.But I,for one,would love to have seen this Ruski Barbarella in action. For a sneak look at the source material go to  Octobriana

Number 18 Brimstone and Treacle
Brimstone And Treacle caused considerable controversy when first broadcast by the BBC in 1976 as an episode of the long running flagship drama series Play For Today. The Beeb's Director General was personally affronted by Dennis Potter's dark parable in which a demonic character, Martin Taylor, turns up on the doorstep of the Bates family. Think Pasolini's Teorema and Terence Stamp to get some idea. The content, which included the rape of the family's disabled daughter, was banned from screening. By the time it did finally screen in 1987 plans were underway for a movie version
Bowie was the first in line to be offered the part of the Satanic Martin Taylor in a projected movie which took a long time to get off the ground. I think Malcolm McDowell was also approached at some point.

At this point in his career, after the Just A Gigolo misfire, he was in a conflicted state of mind, wanting to further his acting career on left-of-centre projects but reticent to sign on the dotted line.Pity that he let this role slip from his fingers - it's embarrassing to watch Sting who lacks the charisma and camp bitchiness that Bowie would have brought to the role. Strangely enough Bowie did end up in the film in an oblique way. Patricia's bedroom in the TV original sported a poster of Mick Jagger on the wall. In the 1982 movie, directed by Richard Loncraine, it's the man that got way, Bowie! (see at left
Sting poncing about and at right Bowie).

Distributor Hoyts gave the film to the independent  Brighton Bay cinema as a throwaway for a short season. That's where I saw it.

Number 19
Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (1988)
After the sudden commercial success of the Disney comedy Ruthless People (David Zucker, Jim Abrahams, Jerry Zucker, USA, 1986) screenwriter Dale Launer thought he might have the germ of a great idea which could team Bowie with Mick Jagger. He called up Gail Davis, a former talent manager at A and M Records, who was at the time the creative head of Isolar, Bowie's umbrella company which handled his projects and explained the set-up. The company was named after the Isolar tour of 1976 in which Bowie toured globally to cross-promote his Station To Station album.(Apparently the concerts opened with projected images from Bunuels's Un Chien Andalou) .The film would be a remake of a so-so 1964 Universal comedy called Bedtime Story (Ralph Levy, USA) with David Niven and Marlon Brando as a pair of con artists. Jagger agreed to meet with Launer but the project stalled. Conceptual problems bugged it. With these two rock icons would it be a musical, a musical comedy, comedy ???  Later it was rewritten as an Eddie Murphy vehicle ,went through numerous rewrites for different studios and directors before ultimately winding up at Orion with the then unbeatable box-office combination of Steve Martin and Michael Caine.

Number 20
Ridley Scott According to Nicholas Pegg's book The Complete David Bowie, out of all the Hollywood projects offered to him his one regret was not accepting an offer from director Ridley Scott. But which film could it have been ? I have no idea . Maybe a project that Scott developed but never got to realise ? Gladiator,maybe ?? But Bowie did manage to work with Scott much,much earlier, in January 1969 on an ice cream commercial at a time when he was hungry for any kind of work opportunity and the release of the ground-breaking Space Oddity was still half a year into the future. He can be glimpsed twice, first running up the stairs of the bus and later as a member of the pop band vocally extolling the virtues of Luv Ice Cream.

The concept behind the black comedy Diamond Dead involves a garage band killed in a freak accident ,except the lead singer who returns as a zombie,achieving undreamed of success and adulation. Richard Hartley (Rocky Horror Picture Show) wrote a score and in 2004 director George Romero sent out pitch letters to his dream cast including Johnny Depp, Ozzy Osborne, Marilyn Manson and Bowie. It all seemed to be going well. The Scott Brothers (Ridley and Tony) came on board as producers for their Scott Free company, and in a blast from the past, veteran Australian expatriate and co-producer Andrew Gaty (The Return Of Captain Invincible, Phillipe Mora, Australia, 1983), set up a website with Romero to whip the fans into a frenzy and create awareness. Gaty was very much the driving force, having previously attempted to set up the film as in 2002 German-based project under the direction of Sean Travis.

Here's the missive,actually a form letter and part of the promotional hype, intended to secure Bowie's services .
Dear Mr. Bowie,
I am enclosing a copy of the script, DIAMOND DEAD by Brian Cooper. I am a huge admirer of your work. I will be directing and have just completed a rewrite, which I feel is very close to what we want the film to be. It lampoons everything from the music business to organized religion, the federal government and the blind adoration of crazed and insatiable fandom. It is a black comedy with songs and music by Richard Hartley (who composed the music for THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW). It is not a rock opera, but is a unique story of a Rock Band who returns from the dead to appear in one more rousing rock concert. We are beginning to generate a lot of interest because ROCKY HORROR (Richard) meets NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (me). Richard has recorded a demo of nine songs. The producer, Andrew Gaty and I are very excited about the possibility of making this an extraordinary movie because we love the material and think there is a vast audience who will get it. We would be thrilled if you would consider appearing in the film as the character of Death. Alison Lohman (White Oleander, Matchstick Men) is reading the script for the character of Aria. We are also sending the script to Johnny Depp. We expect to shoot around March next year, possibly in England. We have also finished some preliminary designs of the costumes and makeup as they are all very important 'characters' in this genre of horror musical. I am hoping that you might be attracted as we are to DIAMOND DEAD and I would be happy to send you the music demo and the sketches. And, at your convenience I would be delighted to talk to you about your ideas on the project. 
Kindest regards, George Romero

Number 22 Bowie as Johnny Ray
One of America's most famous and influential gossip columnists and socialites of her time Dorothy Kilgallen (1913-1965) achieved national celebrity and died under mysterious circumstances. She was also an early sceptic in print on the JFK assassination, questioning the Warrren Commission's findings .She also formed a close friendship with pop crooner Johnnie Ray, a closeted gay performer. In the 80's a Hollywood biopic was planned with Shirley Maclaine in the title role and David Bowie as Ray. Another intriguing role that Bowie would have been a perfect physical fit for.

Number 23 DIAMOND DOGS (1974)
Bowie's 8th album came about after an abortive attempt to buy the licensing rights to George Orwell's novel 1984 from his widow Sonia Orwell. For some time he had been interested in the idea of a post-apocalyptic musical. Some of the songs that ended up on the album had originally been intended for this project. I have read that Warners Brothers offered a huge sum for a movie version of Diamond Dogs but have not been able to verify this. But I do know that in 1975 Bowie, who had toyed with the idea of a stage musical version, shot test footage for a possible movie.
Bowie was quoted as saying of Sonia Orwell "For someone who married a socialist with communist leanings, she was the biggest upper-class snob I've ever met in my life".

In 1967 Bowie wrote “The Champion Flower Grower”, a play for the BBC drama department but it was rejected by the head of the drama department who curtly dismissed the project thus : " Mr. Bowie has really not yet begun to consider what a play is and this total lack of dramatic devopment just rules the script out ". In the year prior to his death he collaborated with Irish playwright Edna Walsh on the stage version of Lazarus which reworked stylistic elements from The Man Who Fell To Earth. The off-Broadway world premiere starred Michael C. Hall (Six Feet Under, Dexter, left),  as the humanoid alien and was an instant sellout despite mixed reviews.

Number 25 The Delinquents
Just in finishing as I previously mentioned, Bowie was supposed to be music director on The Delinquents,based upon a book he was immensely fond of. It turns out that he was actually signed up for a major role (but what part ???) which was grandly announced to the press. But he was so annoyed at the dumbing down of the screenplay, supposedly to appeal to a mythical American audience that yet again, as so many times in his career, he walked. Maybe Bowie's screen presence is a continuation of his unique stage persona as a solo performer. Surely it's no coincidence that Nicolas Roeg , who gave him his breakthrough role in The Man Who Fell To Earth had previously directed another rock icon without any formal training but charisma to boot, namely Mick Jagger in Performance (1969) . TMWFTE was a great role to showcase his alien character, projecting an other-worldly aura which characterised nearly all of his screen work .

It's time to lay Bowie to rest ....

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