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David Bowie
Writing Credits:

Most famous for his alter-ego, the ostentatious, androgynous "Ziggy Stardust", Bowie has continually reinvented his music and image. He has had numerous top ten hits in the US & UK, most notably "China Girl", "Space Oddity", "Under Pressure" and more. Told through archive interviews (originally thought lost) and rare and unseen footage, this DVD is a worthy addition to any Bowie collection. Items genuinely unseen and never before appeared on DVD including film from the ITN archive. Includes lost and now restored TV interviews from the past and rare film of the singer talking about his career.

Rated NR

Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1/16X9
English Stereo
Not Closed-captioned
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 55 min.
Price: $14.95
Release Date: 11/23/2010

• None


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David Bowie: Rare And Unseen (2010)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (January 26, 2011)

As a long-time fan of the man’s work, I thought I’d give David Bowie: Rare and Unseen a look. The program purports to present a mix of little-viewed material across Bowie’s career.

How does it define its title’s terms? According to the case: “Unseen is believed unseen since first broadcast. Rare indicates believed never previously released on DVD.” That’s a broad disclaimer and it seems disingenuous – “unseen” has actually been seen! – but I don’t have any real objection to it, as it’s not like they’re referring to lots of commonly available material as “rare”.

The two main components here come from different decades. Much of the DVD consists of Russell Harty’s November 1975 interview with Bowie. Intended to promote the then-upcoming Station to Station album and tour, this segment later gained notoriety due to its nature. Harty chatted with Bowie via satellite, and Spanish leader Francisco Franco died right before its start. Apparently the Spaniards wanted to use the satellite to broadcast the news but Bowie wouldn’t let them! (At least that’s what Cameron Crowe claimed in a 1976 interview with Bowie.)

In addition to the Harty piece, the other major segment stems from a 1987 special about Bowie’s Glass Spider tour; it boasts some notes from guitarists Carlos Alomar and Peter Frampton in addition to Bowie. Otherwise, we find bits and pieces from other years. We find a fair amount of a 1997 interview to promote Earthling as well as some snippets from 1985ish; these also include remarks from directors Julien Temple and John Landis. Finally, a few minutes from a 1978 pre-concert chat show up as well.

Do you find any actual Bowie music in Rare? Yes, but not much. Most of the Bowie performances show up in the 1987 segments. During those, we hear a few very brief bits from videos, and we also hear parts of “Bang Bang” and “Day In Day Out” from rehearsals. In addition, the show tosses in a few other very quick auditory moments such as a few seconds of “Width of a Circle” from Ziggy Stardust: The Motion Picture.

These are fine, and in the case of the 1987 rehearsals, occasionally fun. Unfortunately, the program also includes some God-awful impersonations of Bowie done by Stevie Riks. I’d seen some of Riks’ work via Youtube; he impersonates a slew of musicians, and does all of them pretty poorly. Like those others, his version of Bowie is more caricature than impersonation. He sounds little to nothing like Bowie, and his renditions are terrible. At least they’re brief.

All of this means that if you want unusual musical clips via Rare, you’ll get no satisfaction. However, if you’d like some interesting old interviews, the show has merit. I was especially happy to see the Harty piece, even though on its own, it’s not actually any good. Harty tends to ask stupid and/or obvious questions, and Bowie’s on some other planet. It’s a safe bet that he was stoned at the time – I’m pretty sure it’s difficult to find shots of non-stoned Bowie from 1975/76 – and he seems eager to stonewall Harty. Bowie comes across as distant and imperious, which leads to a certain perverse entertainment value. I do love the man’s music from this period - Station to Station is as good as it gets – but he sure does seem to have been a pretty awful person in that era.

Bowie’s music was much crummier in 1987, but at least he appears more with it during the rehearsal segments. He also comes across bit full of himself – after all, this was his post-Let’s Dance Mega Pop Star Phase – but the clips are usually good. I like the quick rehearsal shots, and we get a few interesting observations. I don’t think anything amazing emerges, but the comments are worthwhile.

Strangely, the Bowie of 1997 seems more manic than the one of coke-fueled 1975. He’s also more coherent and a whole lot chattier. The 1997 Bowie almost acts as a Greek chorus to discuss the excesses of his past, and he’s pretty funny as well. As he matured, Bowie appeared to become more comfortable with himself, and that shows in these snippets.

That said, the pre-show 1978 clip remains my favorite. Bowie is much more with it than he was two-plus years earlier, and he displays charm with the tall female interviewer. The piece is short but it has an impact.

Rare comes with somewhat haphazard editing, and it lacks anything that makes this Bowie fan really sit up and take notice. That said, it includes a fairly good collection of interview clips. It’s nothing remarkable, but it’s enjoyable for Bowie buffs.

The DVD Grades: Picture D+/ Audio C-/ Bonus F

David Bowie: Rare and Unseen appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.78:1; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. A compilation of old TV material, the show consistently looked bland.

If you were to take your old videotapes and slap them onto DVD, I imagine they’d look a lot like this. Actually, Rare might surpass those expectations somewhat, as the clips lack any real glitches. That means you won’t see rolling bars, tracking issues or other hangups; given the roots of the material, it came free from issues.

Don’t mistake that for an indication that the footage looked good, however, as it really did look like 14-to-35-year-old videotapes. Sharpness took a big hit, as the clips never appeared better than mediocre; the image was consistently soft and without definition.

One problem stemmed from framing, as the image clearly altered the original dimensions much – if not all – of the time. Most of the show was shot 1.33:1, so the DVD cropped these clips for 1.78:1. Why bother? A piece like this will appeal to a small audience, so why not just show it in the original ratio?

Some shimmering occurred, and colors tended to be mushy and flat. Blacks were also inky and lifeless, while shadows suffered from too much opacity. Again, I thought the material looked decent given its origins, but that’s the best I can say about this muddy collection of clips.

Audio fell into the same category with this stereo track. “Stereo” only described the newly recorded covers of Bowie songs, as they showed spread across the front. Otherwise the material reflected its roots and seemed to be monaural.

Sound quality was passable. I heard a lot of hiss, and speech varied dependent on the source. While dialogue was always intelligible, those elements could be thin and edgy at times. Music was also up and down; though the new covers sounded fine, the snippets of actual Bowie tracks seemed dense and murky. Effects were essentially a non-factor, but the times we heard them, they lacked much vivacity. As with the video, the audio was decent for old taped material but it wasn’t better than that.

Don’t look for any extras here, as the disc includes none.

If you want a collection of unusual performance segments, you won’t find them in David Bowie: Rare and Unseen. However, you will get a generally interesting compilation of interview pieces. The DVD comes with weak picture and audio, and it lacks supplements. This one won’t have mass appeal, but it’s a good purchase for serious Bowie fans.

Viewer Film Ratings: -- Stars Number of Votes: 0
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