Like most kids of my generation I would wake up early Saturday Morning to watch Cartoons. Spider-man, Transformers, He-Man, Superfriends, Robotech, Jabber Jaws, Captain Caveman, Scooby Doo, Marine Boy, The Smurfs, its a big list.
One Saturday morning I was awake way too early. Too early for the 6:30am Spider-man show. So I turned on Rage. What was presented to me has been in my headspace for a very long time. David Bowie’s Ashes to Ashes music video.
Long before CGI and digital graphics there were limited special effects. Ashes to Ashes uses them all. Smoke and mirrors, lighting effects, editing tricks all together create an unsettling experience. This was a stage show in miniature.
Classical art is not the same as this music video. The edges were sharp and rough. It was pushing the medium and the budget. It was a creative risk, one that a star like David Bowie could take.
Different From Cartoons
While I sat there I was sure I had witnessed something that was different. No, not different bigger. Bigger than the cartoons I was going to watch that day. Because I had recognised for the first time that there was art and then there as Art.
Cartoons and animation are part of a larger commercial scheme to sell toys. In the 1980’s they were all linked to a series of toys that we could pester our parents to buy. Star Wars showed the toy manufacturers that if you had a compelling mythos you could use that to promote toy sales.
For some it was not just a commercial grab for cash. There were writers and creators with a great story they wanted to tell. It was just that the toy, animation, merchandise machine was the conduit through which they had to navigate and get their stories told.
Bowie was Different
Bowie in comparison was in the Music industry. In that industry David Bowie was a chameleon who changed his musical persona multiple times. Bowie had worked himself into a position where he had a level of control. One that the animators of the 1980’s did not always have.
We have been curated to. Our media a clipped and formed for the purposes of others than to the ideas and inspirations of the artists alone. Watching Bowies Ashes to Ashes I was not being offered a preprepared piece of media I was being shown and artistic expression from Bowie and his collaborators.
To this day I have found a few similar Artworks to Ashes to Ashes. I find it more in the Manga/Anime world. This could be due to the fast production schedules in Japan. So much is produced in a much shorter time. While there are a lot of misses the gold produced is astonishing.
This does not mean that Disney and other production houses cannot do the same. To this day the first three seasons of My Little Pony Friendship is Magic is incredible. That Hasbro let them do this is even more amazing. Then there is Gravity Falls. Kipo and the age of Wonderbeasts. The Dragon Prince. Once again, the list goes on.
You Know How Jokes Get Less Funny?
Perhaps it is the instant moment that songs create which imbue the music video with the power that it has. We connect with songs in an amazing way. You tell a joke only so many times till it just is not funny anymore. But a song that you love, that reminds you of a moment, a person, a group. That will always be with you.
We could talk influences and the symbolism of the video. Of the sad continuation of Major Tom’s story after Space Oddity. The clown, priest and the nuns all walking down the seaside like a fashion show from an electric world out of phase with our own.
It was just a moment when a young child saw something he had never seen before and was awestruck by it. I am still awestruck by it. The haunting lilt of the refrain. The use of the then experimental effects. It is a moment when I saw art in its raw form for the first time.
Like an Iconostasis
I had another moment when art struck me. It was when I visited the local Eastern Orthodox church. As one who grew up in modern chapels and warehouses this was just as startling. I was bombarded by the visual imagery that was earnest and forthright. A symbolic style crafted so it communicates exactly what it needs to.
Struck by the beauty and force of the Iconostasis I wept. I wept because this was art, art that told the story of the Christian faith boldly. Like those stoic heroes of 80’s cartoons they were archetypes easily understood. You could read it without words. It was accessible and brilliant.
Bowie’s Ashes to Ashes was like the iconostasis, like all great art, creates a moment whereby you are transfixed. The message is not forced upon you it is translated to you. As you read the images they read you. You are known and by knowing you understand.
Art is Communication
Art is a form of communication. Where forms and symbols are writ upon the medium. It is not formal like language. Neither is it lightening in a bottle. You can craft it over time, or, in a moment.
When you release it into the world it must stand on its own or fail. You can try too hard and force the message. You can not try at all and hope that something will happen. Perhaps you miss the mark and no one gets what you have made. That is all part of making something.
Then every now and again. It all comes together and you get a moment. This was the story of a moment I had. One that David Bowie made happen. That I just happened to see. That still inspires me today.
Phillip Hall has been too long in Melbourne to see AFL in the same light as those back in Fremantle. East Fremantle born and bred, he would love to see the Dockers back in the eight. But would settle for just beating West Coast twice a year.