DAVID BOWIE: THE LAST FIVE YEARS debuts tomorrow night (Saturday, January 7, 2017) on BBC2 at 9pm, and will be available to view for 30 days on BBC iPlayer. The documentary film is a comprehensive and moving exploration of Bowie’s final years, with detailed input from the singer’s longtime producer Tony Visconti and musicians including Zack Alford, David Torn and Gail Ann Dorsey, who offer the inside track on Bowie’s last recordings and last major tour.
This morning’s teaser headlines have been dominated by the question of whether or not Bowie “knew he was dying” when he was recording Lazarus and his final Blackstar album, but the question seems unduly forensic. MOJO’s conversations with Tony Visconti and the Blackstar band, plus the creative team behind the Lazarus musical over the last 12 months have made it clear that much of the material was written with health issues in Bowie’s mind, and when Visconti began work on Blackstar, it was made clear the star was undergoing chemotherapy.
Certainly, the prognosis was better in the summer of 2015, and even an ultimately fatal resurgence of the cancer late in the year did not prevent Bowie from hoping to record more music, as some of his last conversations with Visconti underlined. But by then the odds of survival were slim.
Ultimately, the documentary re-emphasises the sheer quality and verve of Bowie’s final works. Irrespective of the exact status of his health and its expected outcomes, he was alive to the world and its possibilities and reaching for new modes of expression – an artist to the last.
“I remember him once emailing me about American female soccer,” the film’s director Francis Whately, who made the BBC’s 2013 film David Bowie: Five Years, told The Guardian. “Who would have thought that David Bowie was a female soccer fan? It’s just not what you expect but it speaks to the man, that there was clearly nothing he wasn’t willing to learn about.”
The BBC’s Bowie tribute coverage, commemorating what would have been his 70th birthday on January 8, and the first anniversary of his death on January 10, will also include the broadcast on BBC Four of rarely seen Bowie performances, a show dedicated to Life On Mars?, regularly cited as one of his five best songs, plus a 6Music “Listening Party” for what’s voted to be the public’s favourite Bowie album.