From hot vampire to goblin king: 5 of David Bowie’s best film looks
That babe with the (fashion) power
Since the release of “Space Oddity” in 1969, David Bowie’s influence on fashion has done little to diminish. As a musician, Bowie’s ever-evolving alter egos captivated audiences – from his sci-fi-inspired character Ziggy Stardust to Aladdin Sane’s iconic lightning bolt make-up and The Thin White Duke’s stripped-back, cabaret-style wardrobe. Later, the pop legend transformed the cinematic quality of his characters into a revolutionary career on the silver screen – whether through playing a sensual alien, a goblin king, or a renowned artist.
Paying tribute to Bowie’s lasting influence and artistry for what would have been his 75th birthday (January 8) – the British Film Institute dedicated its Southbank centre to the late musician’s films, television work, documentaries, and concert films throughout January, with “Bowie: Starman and the Silver Screen”. Beyond the screenings, the BFI presented a new video essay by season co-curator Rhidian Davis for the latest instalment of BBC Inside Cinema, alongside the films which inspired Bowie’s work, and a “fan’s journey” special exploring Bowie’s career.
ICYMI, we’ve rounded up some of Bowie’s best looks to ever hit cinema screens – from Andy Warhol’s signature bleached wigs to fantastical sequinned jackets, extraterrestrial lizard eyes, and New Wave vampire getups.
THOMAS JEROME NEWTON, THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH
Taking on his first ever starring role in the 1976 surrealist sci-fi film, The Man Who Fell to Earth, Bowie puts a twist on his futuristic “Space Oddity” look. Playing Thomas Jerome Newton – a humanoid alien searching Earth for water to save his home planet – Bowie sports two-toned copper hair and sophisticated 1970s tailoring, gained from the wealth he acquires on Earth via his extraterrestrial intelligence. As Newton encounters human vices and corruption (from alcohol to television, religion, and sex), those around him begin to notice his true form – which he later reveals to his lover with a hairless head and yellow lizard-like eyes. According to the film’s director, Nick Roeg, Bowie’s unique eccentricity landed him the film’s leading role; the director was not looking for an actor to play an alien, but a lost soul to play a human, which he found in the musician.
In case you haven’t seen Jim Henson’s 1986 cult favourite, Labyrinth, Bowie stars as Jareth: a terrifying, yet intriguing baby-snatching goblin king who sings and dances alongside a 16-year-old Jennifer Connelly and an entire cast of puppet goblins (yes, it’s incredibly weird, and it’s great). Here – as Connelly’s character searches through Jareth’s mazes for her stolen baby brother – the musician wears a series of over-the-top looks, including black leather robes, ruffled blouses, cropped fur coats, tight trousers, and blue sequinned jackets. Topping off the fantastical looks, the villain wears a choppy, Tina Tuner-style mullet and sweeping black and white winged eye make-up.
ANDY WARHOL, BASQUIAT
Channelling an artistic legend of a different sort, Bowie provides a memorable performance as Andy Warhol in Julian Schnabel’s 1996 Basquiat biopic. Wearing facial prosthetics and Warhol’s actual wig, glasses, and leather jacket, Bowie helps tell the story of the artist’s friendship with young neo-expressionist painter Jean-Michel Basquiat. In the musicians own life – although he only met Warhol once – he often referred to himself as a great admirer of the artist, releasing a song named after him in 1971. According to Paul Morrissey, who directed a number of Andy Warhol’s films, Basquiat held one of the most accurate and humane portrayals of the artist’s “comical and amusing” personality. In the film – beyond serving as an intimate mentor to Basquiat – Warhol is seen giving away his wigs as Christmas presents, buying Basquiat a $3000 tin of caviar, and urinating on paintings to create colour-changing “oxidation art”.
JOHN BLAYLOCK, THE HUNGER
When Tony Scott’s 1983 film The Hunger first hit cinemas, critics lampooned the film as an “agonisingly bad vampire movie” with little substance. However, it has since built a cult following due to its gothic aesthetics and horny plotlines. As supernatural vampire John Blaylock, Bowie feeds on the blood of goths and lures hopeless victims into sex-fuelled death traps dressed – all while wearing cream-coloured New Wave suiting, black fish-net gloves, and round sunglasses. Alongside, his lover Catherine Deneuve, wears an elegant Saint Laurent wardrobe. Elsewhere, Alexander McQueen referenced the film in his SS96 collection, with models staggering down the runway in New Wave garments stained with bloody handprints, spliced into gaping wounds, and completed with live worms.
DAVID BOWIE, ZOOLANDER
Okay sure, Bowie’s Zoolander cameo was a brief one, but in our opinion it kicks off one of the film’s best moments: the walk-off between Ben Stiller’s Derek and Owen Wilson’s Hansel. Judging the two’s comedic dances down the runway, Bowie wore a simple, sleek black suit. Speaking after Bowie’s death in 2016, Stiller spoke about their time filming together on Twitter. “I’m still shocked that Bowie agreed to do it. It was the best cameo ever for us,” he said. “He was incredibly gracious and kind to everybody and he completely got it, as you can imagine.”
Bowie: Starman and the Silver Screen is at BFI Southbank until the end of January, with select films available to stream on BFI Player.