Actor Johnny Flynn portrays David Bowie in the film "Stardust" in this undated handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, Elevation Pictures *MANDATORY CREDIT*

‘Stardust’ is a Bowie pic without his music but that was always the plan: director

TORONTO — Gabriel Range’s controversial David Bowie drama “Stardust” has angered fans of the pop music icon for many reasons, but the British director thinks much of it comes down to misguided expectations.

The filmmaker points to the popularity of recent jukebox musicals — Queen’s rowdy biopic “Bohemian Rhapsody” and Elton John’s vibrant “Rocketman” — as unfairly raising the bar for his Canadian-shot indie drama to operate on a similar level of untethered energy.

“They’re both great films, they’re just not the kind of film that I wanted to make,” he explained in an interview from London ahead of the release of “Stardust” on Friday in theatres and video-on-demand.

“I hope rather than being a sing-along, (“Stardust”) tells you something that you actually didn’t know … It is a quiet, intimate film about a young man setting out on a journey as a performer.”

The film, which Range saysisn’t a “biopic” because it only spans a year of Bowie’s life, features English actor Johnny Flynn in the lead role and comedian Marc Maron as his U.S. publicist.

Together, they set out on a tour of the United States as the 24-year-old singer attempts to overcome his one-hit-wonder status, playing small bar shows and mingling with journalists and radio disc jockeys.

Bowie’s breakout 1972 Ziggy Stardust album was still on the horizon, and his attention was divided between the personal turmoil of his brother’s deteriorating mental health and the search for his own public persona.

Shot in 16 days around Toronto and Hamilton, the film uses local motels, concert halls and country roads to stand in forthe United States of the early 1970s.

But “Stardust” is missing one key element of the performer’s early life: his music.

Bowie’s estate refused to participate in the project and declined the rights to his songs.Those missing elements left a dent in the illusion that’s hard to ignore.

In one scene, Flynn’s Bowie makes an anticipated step onto the stage only to launch into a cover of “I Wish You Would” by the Yardbirds, a point that’s been mocked online.

Range doesn’t consider the absence of the songs that launched Bowie’s career a strike against his film’s authenticity and says he knew all along he wouldn’t have access to the musician’s early catalogue.

He had experienced similar difficulties in the past.

Another script he co-wrote before “Stardust” centred on the months Bowie spent with Iggy Pop in West Berlin, as they tried to escape fame and break their drug addictions.

But securing the rights to music from two legends was even more complicated, he said. Plans to shoot the film never got off the ground.

So in the case of “Stardust,” Range insists it was always less about the music and more about the man, an approach that he found “hugely liberating.”

“Instead of having that enormous pressure to make it a spin through his greatest hits, there was the opportunity to do something that was much more modest,” he said.

Still, that hasn’t made launching “Stardust” into the cinematic stratosphere any easier.

Many Bowie fans haven’t warmed to the film, saying that it was the singer’s wish to never have his life re-created for cinematic entertainment. They’ve let that feeling be known on social media, and Range said lead actor Flynn has been the target of “a lot of abuse” over his part in the project.

But Range is accustomed to being on the defensive for his work.

In 2006, he directed the docudrama “Death of a President,” which imagines the assassination of then-U.S. President George W. Bush. The film ignited a fury of criticism at the Toronto International Film Festival where it premiered and led to him receiving a number of death threats.

Nothing so dramatic has happened with “Stardust,” he said, though he still takes issue with Bowie faithful who don’t think filmmakers should have the freedom to interpret the story behind his cultural impact.

“It’s an entirely valid thing for us to explore the life of a public figure,” he said.

“And we do it in a way that is delicate and sensitive.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 27, 2020.

David Friend, The Canadian Press

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

As of Friday, Alberta has under 10,000 active COVID-19 cases. (Image courtesy CDC)
Alberta identifies 573 new COVID-19 cases, 13 deaths on Saturday

There are currently 9,727 active cases of the virus in the province

A firetruck sits in front of a home on Harvey Close in Red Deer Saturday afternoon. (Photo by Sean McIntosh/Advocate staff)
Firefighters respond to Red Deer fire

Red Deer firefighters responded to a blaze in the north part of… Continue reading

(Courtesy photo)
Red Deer rental prices drop slightly

Renting an apartment in Red Deer became slightly cheaper last month.… Continue reading

Rylee Trippel was last seen Friday. (Photo contributed by RCMP)
Red Deer RCMP looking for missing teen

Police are looking for a teen who was last seen in the… Continue reading

The Red Deer Outreach Centre’s Adopt a Family program raised $60,000 in 2020. (Photo courtesy Red Deer Outreach Centre’s Facebook)
Red Deer Outreach Centre’s Adopt a Family program raised $60K in 2020

The executive director of the Red Deer Outreach Centre says she is… Continue reading

Former Alberta Premier Rachel Notley shakes hands with Joel Ward, former Red Deer College President and CEO, as Notley announces that the college is on the path to grant degrees. Red Deer-South MLA Jason Stephan says university status is not a necessary condition for offering degrees. (File photo by Advocate staff)
Future of Red Deer University increasingly uncertain

MLA’s college update says RDC more like SAIT and NAIT than a university

RCMP say missing teen Hope Tivendale has been found. (File photo by Advocate staff)
No foul play suspected after burned body of homeless person found in North Vancouver

VANCOUVER — A burned body, believed to be of a homeless person,… Continue reading

The central zone experienced a spike in the number of COVID-19 cases Thursday, rising from 454 to 508 active cases over the past 24 hours, with 10 people in hospital. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)
Spartan Bioscience says Health Canada has approved its rapid COVID-19 test

TORONTO — An Ottawa company says it’s received approval from Health Canada… Continue reading

Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole holds a press conference on Parliament Hill, in Ottawa, Thursday, Dec. 10, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole defends decision to back, then oust, Sloan

OTTAWA — Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole says he was once willing to… Continue reading

Quebec Premier Francois Legault pauses as he speaks during a news conference on the COVID-19 pandemic, Thursday, Jan. 21, 2021 at the legislature in Quebec City. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jacques Boissinot
Non-essential travel ban would violate Constitution but courts might allow it: expert

MONTREAL — Fear that Quebecers will catch a new variant of COVID-19… Continue reading

A woman walks outside the Roberta Place Long Term Care home in Barrie, Ont. on Monday, January 18, 2021. The devastating toll of COVID-19 on long-term care residents in Canada has underscored the need for increased public funding for home care, advocates say. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
COVID-19 deaths in long-term care reveal need for home supports: advocates

VANCOUVER — The devastating toll of COVID-19 on long-term care residents in… Continue reading

A Chinese flag is illuminated by sunshine in the Hall of Honour on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Thursday, September 22, 2016. China is threatening retaliation against Canada after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau condemned a new security law giving Beijing more control over Hong Kong.. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Diplomats contact Canadian held for over 2 years in China

BEIJING — Canadian officials have met online with former diplomat Michael Kovrig,… Continue reading

Marc Gold (centre) stands with senators André Pratte (left) and Peter Harder before being sworn in during a ceremony in the Senate on Parliament Hill, Thursday, Dec. 1, 2016 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
Senator urges study of vexing barriers to using secret information in court cases

OTTAWA — A Senate committee should examine the hurdles that make it… Continue reading

In this file photo, a lotto Max ticket is shown in Toronto on Monday Feb. 26, 2018. (By THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Winnipeg ticket holder wins Friday night’s $60 million Lotto Max jackpot

TORONTO — A ticket holder from Winnipeg won Friday night’s whopping $60… Continue reading

Most Read