David Bowie: The Last Five Years, a recent BBC documentary focusing on the rock legend’s prolific final years, gets its U.S. television debut on HBO tonight, which would’ve been Bowie’s 71st birthday.
Director Francis Whately, whose film is a sequel to his 2013 documentary David Bowie: Five Years, tells ABC Radio that the new flick focuses on a “fascinating” period for Bowie that saw him create two studio albums, The Next Day and Blackstar, and a stage musical, Lazarus.
Whately points out that making The Last Five Years was more challenging than his first Bowie doc.
“Whereas in the first film I had a wealth of interviews and archival sources…to use and utilize,” the filmmaker notes, “for this I didn’t really have anything other than the [music] videos [David made for The Next Day and Blackstar].”
One solution Whately devised was getting musicians who played on The Next Day together and filming them performing tunes from the album, and also conducting interviews with them individually.
“It was a joy to be with them, and a joy to hear them play those tracks,” Frank maintains.
Meanwhile, Whately tells ABC Radio that the doc examines how Bowie’s final projects echoed his classic earlier work by showing how he used themes like “otherness, alienation, fame [and] spirituality” consistently throughout his career. Whately utilized some previously unseen archival footage from Bowie’s early career to illustrate his point.
One of the main aspects of the documentary is how Bowie continued to create as he battled terminal cancer, while keeping his illness a secret to most of the world. On the subtle way Bowie’s illness was handled in the doc, Whately explains, “We didn’t want to overplay [it], because he didn’t overplay the fact that he was ill. He carried on throughout.”
David Bowie: The Last Five Years premieres at 8 p.m. ET.
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