In 1973, legendary director D.A.Pennebaker decided to film the London leg of David Bowie’s tour of Britain in support of Aladdin Sane. Little did Pennebaker know that Bowie, in his most famous incarnation as Ziggy Stardust, would announce his retirement after the final encore. What Bowie retired, of course, was the Ziggy persona—fans of that incarnation are indebted to Pennebaker for catching the final act in his film Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.
Pulling footage from Pennebaker’s concert film, and a great deal of rare footage, and narrated by Jarvis Cocker, the BBC documentary does what Pennebaker’s film refused to; it tells a story, in typical TV documentary fashion, of the rise of Ziggy. And it’s not a story that many fans know. The first part of the film addresses the question: “What made this mysterious extra-terrestrial one of the most influential cultural icons of the 20th century?” It turns out, quite a lot went into the making of Bowie’s 1973 breakthrough as Ziggy Stardust. In fact, says Cocker, “at that time,” when Bowie emerged as this seemingly fully-formed character, “we didn’t realize that he’d been trying to be successful for 10 years.”