September 24, 2015

Down in the lab

The Hunger (Tony Scott, 1983). David Bowie is a delicate, spectral presence in movies and just as that worked so well for him and Nic Roeg in The Man Who Fell to Earth, it also worked for him and Tony Scott in The Hunger. I hadn’t seen this since the late 1980s, on murky VHS on a small television, and given Scott’s love for shadows and dim light through billowing curtains or venetian blinds, it was like looking for figures in the fog. It’s better than I remember and it’s better than its reputation. The 80s high style is hazy and unreal, the mood is listless and eroticised Euro-decadence and the minutes that Bowie spends, abandoned and alone, ageing rapidly in a hospital waiting room, is the most affecting screen performance he ever gave. The Hunger appeared in April 1983 – the mass-appeal commercial breakthrough of Let’s Dance came in exactly the same month. There is something sad and significant in that timing as well, in seeing a reclusive and nocturnal Bowie die onscreen while out in the bright world he was being reborn as a popular entertainer. It was a transitional time: the unhealthy Bowie was on the way out and a healthy replacement was on the way in. With his wide hat and his limo rides, the dying Bowie of The Hunger even looks like the Thin White Duke of the 70s. The use of Bauhaus at the start was so obviously clever (as the band in the new wave club, they play their Bowie-influenced song about a dead movie vampire while Bowie and Catherine Deneuve hunt for warm bodies) but I had forgotten that another key scene is scored to Iggy’s “Funtime”, which was a Bowie co-write (“Last night I was down in the lab / Talkin’ to Dracula and his crew”).