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THE RISE AND FALL OF ZIGGY STARDUST
AND THE SPIDERS FROM MARS

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1992 Rykodisk reissue

Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars
The Motion Picture

Directed by D A Pennebaker

Filmed at Hammersmith Odeon July 3 1973

Soundtrack released October 1983
Theatrical release December 1983

Songs performed

Intro (incorporating Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, arranged and performed by Wendy Carlos) 1:05
Hang on to Yourself 2:55
Ziggy Stardust 3:19
Watch That Man 4:14
Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud 3:15
All the Young Dudes 1:38
Oh! You Pretty Things 1:46
Moonage Daydream 6:25
Changes 3:36
Space Oddity 5:05
My Death (Brel, Shuman) 7:20
Intro incorporating William Tell Overture (Abridged), arranged and performed by Wendy Carlos (Gioacchino Rossini) 1:01
Cracked Actor 3:03
Time 5:31
The Width of a Circle 15:45
Let's Spend the Night Together (Jagger, Richards) 3:02
Suffragette City 4:32
White Light/White Heat (Reed) 4:01
Farewell Speech 0:39
Rock 'n' Roll Suicide 5:17

How I Met Ziggy Stardust and Survived

DA Pennebaker
15th June 2002

I was drifting on a raft on the Mississippi river, filming some friends when I got a message from my office that RCA wanted to talk to me about a very important project, to film a half-hour of a David Bowie concert in London, but I had to be there by the next weekend. It seemed that RCA had invented a new video disc, called SelectaVision and I was to make a half-hour film of the Bowie concert to record on it as a sample of the technology. A half-hour was all they needed, or could use. A half hour. It seemed a long way to go for such a short film.

With two days to find cameramen and equipment capable of this sort of filmmaking, I found myself ticketed to London with my eldest daughter, Stacy, as producer and my friend Jim Desmond, who had almost single-handedly immortalized Jimi Hendrix at Monterey, as a cameraman. I also managed to get hold of a young filmmaker, Nick Doob, whose first film I had seen and liked a lot, Franken, who I knew could shoot a camera but whose work was virtually unknown to me. There was also the possibility of getting someone in London with a camera and a tripod.

When we finally got to the airport, we discovered there was an airline strike and hundreds of people were waiting around for their flights. But there didn't seem to be any planes. As the night wore on it became clear to me that there weren't going to be any planes, and that the only things flying were a lot of unreliable rumours. So we scrounged around and found a bunch of tourists charter-bound for Europe, whom we fell in with, casually sneaking on their plane, which unfortunately was bound not for London – where we supposed to be the next day – but Rome.

When the plane landed the next morning at Fiumicino Airport, our tourist companions were whisked away by bus and we were left surrounded by our camera bags on the tarmac outside the terminal. Stacy, by now a travel-hardened producer whispered in my ear. "Dad, why are those men pointing machine guns at us?" We were indeed being encircled by a number of gun-bearing officials signalling us to follow them. There had been an assault on the airport recently and with our surplus army bags filled with cameras we did not look like the average group of American tourists. In fact I could see that we looked every bit like a group of insurgents headed for arrest.

In the terminal it was made clear to me that they were going to put all our bags through an X-ray machine and if there were any odd looking metal objects inside we would have to take everything out for examination. Meanwhile, Stacy got us ticketed on a plane due to leave in about an hour which we would be lucky to make even without the delay of a thorough search of our bags. As we paraded our clunky bags past a very professional looking machine I was astonished to see that there was no sign of alarm, and no flashing lights signalled any sort of undesirable metal content. As I pushed the last bag through the X-ray device and hurried to catch our flight, which was already warming up, I saw the attendant ruefully kick the machine. That's when I noticed it wasn't plugged in.

In London we hurried to the Hammersmith Odeon, where the next-to-the-last concert was about to take place. The following night's concert we were informed would be the very last concert of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders From Mars, a bit on which we were sworn to secrecy by manager Tony DeFries, who assured us that only Bowie himself knew this and would reveal it to the audience sometime during the final performance.

That night we filmed bits of the concert, as well as the audience to check the lighting. It was an incredibly exciting concert experience, a long way from the Dylan concerts I had filmed for Dont Look Back. And Bowie himself was stunning. I have never seen anyone turn on an audience, men as well as woman, the way he did that night. The minute he strode out on stage I could see that he was a character looking for a film. Everything was right, costumes, music, lyrics, makeup, and that spectacular audience. I was struck by their almost choreographic attention to the songs. They clearly knew every word to each song and even had their own additions that created a brilliant interaction between Bowie and the crowd.

So after the show we raced over to a lab to get our tests processed and see what was what. The show was almost perfectly lit the way it was, but the audience was a little dark and I knew they needed to be a huge part of the film, so early the next morning we watched the crowds of kids gather outside the theatre and I arranged to have signs put up that asked everyone to bring their flash bulb cameras and take as many pictures as they could. This illuminated the audience a little more and gave them a constant presence in the film, so that when our cameras were turned on Bowie, you could still feel the crowd with their persistent flashing cameras. Later we would notice that one of our film magazines was flaking tiny bits of magnesium onto the film, leaving tiny bits of glitter here and there, which looked quite beautiful and which we hailed as glitter chrome, our newest contribution to Glam Rock filmmaking.

When we got back to New York we processed the first half-hour of the concert for the RCA disc, and tried to figure out a way for David to mix the sound tracks, which were on a multi-track tape. RCA turned over its gigantic fourth floor studio and had an engineer at Ampex design a device to match multi-track audio to the projected film but it didn't work and after a few fruitless hours of trying to synch up the picture, David gave up and we went back to our drawing boards.

What we finally did was mix down the multi-track without film and then to lay it into the film take by take. It wasn't easy but luckily we only had to do it for the half-hour SelectaVision disc.

But I really wanted to make a full-length feature out of the concert, and I needed to figure out how to mix all those bloody tracks, while watching the film. There was also the problem of how to pay for such an undertaking. Half-hour films are one thing, and RCA had paid for that, but a two hour feature film with four track Dolby sound is quite another. I tried to get hold of David but he'd disappeared into the great Midwest and although I got occasional calls from small towns suggesting that I fly out and we'd mix the tracks at a radio station he knew about, I could see that I was going to have to do it on my own. Firstly, I needed to get the rest of the film processed, and in a hurry because reversal will turn red if left unprocessed for too long. I got hold of a friend who worked at the Daily News film lab which did their TV news film.

We made an arrangement whereby I would deliver so many rolls of film and some money in a paper bag, by way of a bar we both knew of, and would pick up processed film and work print when it was ready.

The film looked beautiful and I began editing, but the sound mix was another matter. There simply weren't any sound studios that could mix film tracks the way record companies mixed their records. Film mix studios mixed mono tracks and they did it very well but here I had sixteen tracks which I had to bring down to four if I wanted to have the film in Dolby, which after the success of Monterey I knew was mandatory. The answer was overwhelming but I was no other way and proceeded to get two studio wires to come in and another we designed and wired a simple console capable of mixing the 16 original tracks down to a four track master from which I could make a stereo or four track Dolby sound track.

The console took almost six months to complete but when it was done I was able to mix the whole thing in about a week. When I put five speakers around my little screening room, which was about the size of a single car garage, the effect was incredible. I would have screenings several times a week and it was clear that this was an amazing film experience. So I got hold of a small portable projector that could interlock a 16mm film with a stereo track, and started showing it at places like Yale and Buffalo to a large audience just to see if I was on the right track. Was I! It was such a success that I could have gone on the road with that setup and shown that film all over the country. Probably all over the world.

When ABC heard about it they wanted to run it as a "Movie of the week". This was big time, so I checked with David and DeFries who said do it. There turned out though, to be a problem with ABC. They were nervous about the references to death and suicide that David would sing about from time to time and requested that I edit them out, which I reluctantly agreed to do. When I told David about this he suggested that we beep each of the edits figuring that when ABC heard the effect they might cancel the edits. So when the network producers heard the annoying beeps they weren't happy but they were more concerned with their legal liability so they decided to go with the edited version.

I was determined to show the film with a stereo track, which in those days was broadcast on a separate FM station at the same time as the film was being shown. I arranged with the FM network and provided a stereo track for the FM channels to run, but of course I neglected to beep these tracks, so that anyone who heard the sound on their FM radio heard the true and irreverent Ziggy Stardust. As I never heard any complaints from the network I assumed that none of them ever listened to FM radio. The show was a big hit and letters came in from all over the country, but it was only a one-time airing.

My dream of getting to a big audience wasn't complete. I knew that I had to get it into theatres, where the picture would be big and the sound fantastic. It was the same problem we had with Monterey Pop. The audience for it was there. We just had to get to them. What I had to do was make a 35mm theatrical version with my four track Dolby sound and find a theatre to run it. A big theatre with really good sound. I received an invitation to bring some of my work to Edinburgh for their annual film festival (1979) and of course that was it. I knew they had a wonderful theatre there and the film would be considered a sort of avant-garde musical event.

The minute the word of the showing got out, the lid was off. Everyone who had been at the Odeon or even heard about that eventful concert showed up and brought two friends, so that evening when I got to the theatre expecting a polite audience of film buffs, there was this incredible theatre filled to overflowing with the very fans that we had filmed. It was a gigantic déjà vu. I couldn't imagine a wilder opening night and I hadn't planned any of it. I think it was one of the all time great screenings I've ever sat through, and Chris, my new partner, was there with me. Well it's no exaggeration to say that Edinburgh will always be one of my favourite places in the world.

Of course word got back to David who called and thereupon offered to come to New York and remix the tracks so that we could release the film. But as it happened EMI entered the ring and their quick release of the video meant no theatre release for the film so it all crept under the sink and up until this moment has been only on VHS, with not very good sound.

Then a few years ago out of the blue, David decided to remix into the new Dolby 5.1 and release it theatrically as well as on DVD. So now at last after some thirty years Ziggy Stardust gets its day in the sun.

Gimme Your Hands

Uncut, 2003

DA Pennebaker: RCA wanted me to get a half hour of his performance. But scouting the first show, I realised rapidly that we had to shoot the whole thing. There was a film to be made here. Nobody, not even RCA, was interested in that – except myself, I guess, and maybe David. There were only three of us filming, but we shot the entire show as best we could. It was such a thing to watch that as long as our cameras worked it was hard not to get it.

Going in, we thought it would be something like Mark Bolan, do you know? That glitter rock formula – you put enough lights and painted things on the stage, you’ve got glitter rock. But this was just a purely amazing performance, from the entrance through to the encore with Jeff Beck. The way it was lit, deliberately, you couldn’t see everything. Instead of a stage, it was like there was a bridge in front of the audience, and nothing on the other side of it.

Occasionally, like when the sax came in as songs ended, they'd light it up and you'd glimpse him there, like he was a frog on a lily-pad. It didn’t have a sense of being enclosed on a stage in a theatre. It was like the kids were looking at the sky, the stars… I found it very haunting.

I had signs up put up – in fact, I put them up myself – in the lobby, saying, “Be sure to take plenty of pictures with your flash cameras, kids!“ Normally they prohibit that, they arrest you, but I needed lots of flash guns going off to make that whole place a huge cavern, filled with flashing lights and faces and people singing. It was so different, more vibrant than anything in the States. I was astonished at how he had the whole goddamn audience singing back up-for him. I thought: how did he arrange that? What was this? This was not your usual concert.

October 12-15, 1974

Recording: Ziggy Stardust soundtrack
Star Studio, 37th and National Avenue, Milwaukee

MainMan had arranged for DA Pennebaker's film of the Ziggy retirement show – then known as Bowie '73 With The Spiders From Mars – to be screened on American television with a stereo simulcast on FM radio.

Bowie went into the studio with Mike Garson and Earl Slick to overdub some piano and guitar parts for the soundtrack, with the help from Dean and Sam Halonen and Robert Sage.

October 25, 1974

Bowie '73 With The Spiders From Mars
broadcast on Wide World: In Concert (ABC)

This 60-minute edit for American television was broadcast with a stereo simulcast on FM radio. It was censored in 20 places due to references to death and suicide in lyrics. The stereo simulcast however, went out uncensored, and was probably the source for the stereo bootleg records of the concert.

This version of the film included Jeff Beck's appearance, which was later cut for the 1983 theatrical release.

DA Pennebaker Q and A

BBC Four, January 9, 2003

Manuel, London: One of the things I particularly enjoy about your concert shows is seeing how the audience react and succumb to the performance. Often these moments are more captivating than the artist on stage - I'm thinking of Ziggy Stardust in particular which has some great shots of the fans. Have you ever been tempted to make a documentary just about the audience, and hardly feature the artists, if at all?

DA Pennebaker: A lot of times it's harder to shoot the audience than the performer. With the performer you just point the camera at them. With the audience you have to find somebody, you have to have the light. It's much harder to do. Somebody could almost spend the entire concert doing nothing else in order to do it really well but nobody wants to do that and miss out on the concert! So no, I've never thought to do it although you could do it in very amusing way. If it was one guy playing ten instruments and you didn't know that, you could make a very funny film of the just showing the audience reactions. I never have been tempted to try though.

BBC Four: What did you make of that Ziggy audience?

DA Pennebaker: They were a fantastic audience. After I got over the shock of seeing Bowie turning from a fairly normal personality into some kind of wild creature up there, I was amazed that the entire theatre would sing backup for him. That's why I put up signs in the lobby asking people to take as many flash photos as possible because I wanted to see that audience and feel it. Even more interesting for me was when I looked on the stage I didn't see any back on it. It was like I was looking into a black hole. The whole theatricality knocked me out.

Bill Armstrong: Why were the colours so unreal and unclear? The images seemed to lack definition. A most enjoyable trip down memory lane though!

DA Pennebaker: I think it works better on a large theatrical screen. It's very sloppy. There were only three of us filming, which is not a lot to film a concert. We had a fourth camera but we didn't use it very much because it was so far away. The colouring I thought was fantastic. That fawn-yellow that was used throughout I thought was really beautiful. When you film something like this you try to get the frenzy of it and if you're putting cameras on tripods and waiting patiently to get the shot in the middle of the frame I don't think you can achieve that. The frenzy is what makes it exciting as opposed to listening to records.

BBC Four: Didn't you tour the film around in your car before it was released properly?

DA Pennebaker: I had a 16mm print. I rigged up a Siemens projector so I could play a stereo track on it. I would show it at various places. It took me a while to get a 35mm print with a Dolby four track which is what I showed up in Edinburgh (August 31, 1979). That was just a fantastic screening. I saw right away that we had to get the film released theatrically. David heard about that screening and came to New York and we mixed it together.

Mark Porter, Brighton: Did you know you were filming the last Ziggy show, prior to the concert starting?

DA Pennebaker: Somebody had mentioned it but it seemed to me like a little promotional gag of some sort. I didn't know what they quite meant and it didn't seem to me that David was going to give up a career on stage. I was caught by surprise when he said it, and I know a lot of the band was surprised because they were supposed to have been told and hadn't been.

Ronald Thorpe, Edgeware: Why have all re-releases of Ziggy Stardust been deprived of the final encore featuring Jeff Beck? I distinctly remember seeing the full version at a Cinema in Rome around 1974.

DA Pennebaker: It was in it originally and added almost 20 minutes to the film. I didn't mind that at all. The problem was later when we remixed. Jeff Beck for some reason wasn't happy. David went to London and he and Beck overdubbed those two songs [Jean Genie and Love Me Do]. They're great songs. They should be in the film in many ways. But Beck still wasn't happy and didn't want to be in it so we took him out. It helps the film in some ways by making it shorter. It was two hours with Beck in it and as much as I like Jean Genie and the other songs I think it probably plays better shorter. I think it's hard to make a concert film go much more than about 90 to 100 minutes although I'm sure it's worth seeing more of it.

BBC Four: On the subject of seeing more of the film, quite a few people have asked about the Ziggy DVD. Is that something that's in your hands?

DA Pennebaker: Tony Visconti [Bowie's producer] and I did some stuff to go with the DVD. I think EMI is handling it. When I spoke to David last it hadn't come out.

Release history

October 25, 1974
Bowie ’73 With The Spiders From Mars

60m edit broadcast in USA (ABC) with a stereo simulcast

 

August 31, 1979
Bowie
screened at Edinburgh Film Festival

 

May 1983

Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars
promoted at Cannes International Film Festival

 

October 1983
Ziggy Stardust: The Motion Picture
LP and cassette release (RCA)

 

December 15, 1983
Media screening at 20th Century-Fox Studio, Los Angeles

 

December 1983
Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars
theatrical release

1988
Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars
VHS home video release
(Miramax/MainMan/Warner)

August 7, 1992
Ziggy Stardust: The Motion Picture
remastered CD release (Rykodisc/EMI)

 

1998
Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars The Motion Picture
DVD release (Image Entertainment ID704LYDVD)

March 2003
Ziggy Stardust: The Motion Picture

remastered Surround Sound DVD release (EMI)

Ziggy Stardust: The Motion Picture Soundtrack
30th Anniversary 2CD set


 

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Bowie Golden Years v1.0 created and designed by Roger Griffin 2000
Bowie Golden Years v2.0 2017-2020

Photographs and texts have been credited wherever possible

this page updated June 1, 2021