David Bowie’s RICOCHET: Serious Moonlight Tour Documentary (directed by Gerry Troyna, 1983)
It’s a terrific piece of film making. It’s like the documentary Chris Marker never made about Bowie (without Marker’s somewhat distracting voice-overs) - here seen sporting his platinum blonde look from Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence.
Amidst some cool modernist neon-lit shots taken in South-East Asia, Bowie seem to be feeling post-colonialist guilt/white man’s anxiety for becoming rich overnight in the wake of Let’s Dance.
As he arrives in his home country (hmm, Hong Kong) and engages with his fellow British citizens from the Far East, Bowie comes across as a faux James Bond, or a strange parody of it (there’s talk and more anxiety about the future HK handover in 1997).
The juxtaposition of Bowie, an always sleek and seductive figure - and self-aware of it - with the still underdeveloped, shabby Third World backgrounds shown in the pictures works wonders. There it is, Western sleekness plonked right in the middle of the action - just like the Superman III billboard in the middle of Bangkok, advertising a visually sleek Hollywood vehicle made for American mass audiences which was sold around the world to people who don’t have the shared cultural experiences (and income) to know what is going on.
So I guess the point here is that wealth is in part created by sleek imagery (i.e., marketing), which allows to sell crap to people who don’t have the means to buy it (whether they’re from economically developed places or not). It’s also a recurring theme in the film, as with the HK boys who have to sell their record collection to buy a ticket for the Bowie gig - and with Bowie himself acknowledging his tickets cost too much for the local audiences.
At least Bowie is somehow dealing with his post-colonial guilty. Most pop musicians wouldn’t (specially the British)(and also those Scottish ones who used to be on Creation Records).
However, Bowie commits a faux pas when asked by an HK (Chinese) reporter about his fascination with the East (which here can be interpreted as “China) to which Bowie responds: “Yes, I like Kabuki”. Adding to the confusion, China Girl is a song Iggy Pop wrote about a Vietnamese girl…
Anyhow, I have been to those places and I love them all in their own different way. By now, HK and Singapore have made it - they graduated to developed nation-state (city) status. But Thailand is still lagging behind. It’s funny because the world now seems to be filled with “developing” nations - which used to be called Third World, when the hierarchy was more rigid. Now any nation can have the status of “wanna-be rich”. Which means that chasing the carrot is in-built into the system. Can you imagine if all places in the world were “developed” and all people didn’t struggle, would that be the end of history?
Maybe Thailand is too Buddhist to be fully economically developed - not a bad thing. And even though we see Bowie keeping his cool and detached façade throughout the show, he eventually decides to get in touch with his spirituality somewhere in, appropriately enough, Thailand (I don’t know much about that Thai Buddhist ceremony he took part in but I’m curious about it).
That’s another funny contradiction, since the 80s were the time when he, and everyone else, were focusing on becoming tycoons. As a matter of fact, he once stated that “Japan would make him to zen to write” - meaning that he’d rather have a successful artistic career than following a path of enlightenment.
But maybe all those mixed feelings of anxiety were getting to him. But film ends with a lively performance of Fame, which is the path he decided to follow.