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Non-Review Review: Stardust (2020)

Stardust is not just a terrible movie, it often feels like a very direct insult to its subject.

To some extent, Stardust was inevitable. The commercial and awards success of Bohemian Rhapsody had cemented the musical biopic as an organic extension of the jukebox music genre that had enjoyed popular success with Mamma Mia and Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again. Given that the logical extension had been to move from a Freddie-Mercury-centric biopic to an Elton-John-centric biopic with Rocketman, it seemed that iconic British musical artists from the seventies were ripe for this sort of treatment.

“But the film is a saddening bore.
For she’s lived it ten times or more.
She could spit in the eyes of fools.
As they ask her to focus on…”

David Bowie loomed large in that line-up, so a Bowie biopic seemed the next logical step. Of course, there are two fundamental problems with Stardust. The first is one of genre. Whether fairly or not, the musical biopic has a certain structure and rhythm to it. This was the case with the early iterations of the genre like Ray and Walk the Line, and it was spoofed mercilessly with Walk Hard. That formula is evident in Bohemian Rhapsody and Rocketman, unironically reiterated. That formula has its uses, but David Bowie was an artist who defied those sorts of tropes and beats.

However, the second fundamental issue with Stardust is particular to the movie. A large part of the appeal of musical biopics is the soundtrack, with the plot often feeling like a set of hooks on which the movie might hang iconic and beloved songs. The soundtrack album is a huge part of the commercial appeal of these projects. Rocketman arguably pushed this idea to its extreme by embracing the cinematic language of the musical, but it was there in Walk the Line and Bohemian Rhapsody.

“Time takes a cigarette, puts it in your mouth.
You pull on your finger, then another finger, then cigarette.
The wall-to-wall is calling, it lingers, then you forget.”

With that in mind, it is notable that Stardust is effectively a jukebox musical biography without any jukebox music. The Bowie estate declined to license Bowie’s music for the film, which should have been enough to stop the project dead or at least require a major rethink of the approach to it. Without a killer Bowie soundtrack, trying to emulate Bohemian Rhapsody and Rocketman would be a fool’s errand. There is probably a way to tell the story of David Bowie’s life without including his music, but a formulaic musical biopic is not it.

One almost has to admire the stubbornness in committing to a format almost wholly reliant on a soundtrack that is legally unavailable to the film in question. Almost.

“Making love with his ego,
Ziggy sucked up into his mind,
Like a leper messiah.”

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Space: Above and Beyond – Stardust (Review)

This November (and a little of December), we’re taking a trip back in time to review the third season of The X-Files and the first (and only) season of Space: Above and Beyond.

Stardust was the second episode of Space: Above and Beyond to air on a Friday, as had originally been planned.

Of course, it was too late to help the show. By this point in its run, Space: Above and Beyond was a dead show walking. Stardust seems to wryly acknowledge as much. It opens with an inmate on death row, watching the clock tick down to midnight. The show is essentially about sacrifices made by the already-dead, and it’s hard not to get a sense that it captured the mood of the staff on the show as well. A wry wink at the audience, like all the introspective reflection in the earlier episodes.

Cold wars...

Cold wars…

It is also interesting how Stardust positions itself as a possible companion piece to The X-Files. The X-Files casts a pretty significant shadow over Space: Above and Beyond. It was very much an attempt by Fox to capitalise on the success of The X-Files as a genre show. It drafted in two of the most reliable executive producers working on The X-Files. The first two episodes were directed by a veteran of The X-Files. David Duchovny had popped by R & R as something of a goodwill ambassador.

Space: Above and Beyond had played with these comparisons before. The Farthest Man From Home had teased a conspiracy narrative about alien and government cover-ups. Level of Necessity featured a riff on Mulder, with a tall dark-haired paranormal investigator wandering into the show. Stardust makes the connection more explicit, riffing on some of the themes that The X-Files had pushed to the fore at the end of its second season and into the third, exploring links between Native Americans and extraterrestrials.

The honoured dead...

The honoured dead…

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