When Brett Morgen was a kid, he used to go to the planetarium at Griffith Observatory. It was that sense of wonder that inspired him to make Moonage Daydream, a rockumentary unlike any other. Using 1970s concert footage of David Bowie combined with archival footage and interviews with the Ziggy Stardust artist, the movie is a dazzling, colorful tribute to the beloved, late musician.
Morgen recently gave a talk after a screening of the documentary with re-recording mixers Paul Massey and David Giammarco, who mixed Bowie’s live concert footage from the early 1970s from scratch using the original stems.
“The initial idea, before I knew it was Bowie, was to just create a kind of immersive, sublime cinematic experience a little different than we’re accustomed to,” Morgen said.
“We had access to everything in the David Bowie archives, both musically and visually. And from the beginning of the project, before we even knew we were doing a film on David Bowie, the idea was to create this IMAX music experience. And so from the word go, the decision was made to mix the film from stems, and then we would have only access use music that we had stems available to us. Because part of the really simple reason this came into existence was, I wanted to hear music in a room like this.”
Enter Massey and Giammarco, who took that old concert footage and elevated it sonically to sound crystal clear and powerful through IMAX speakers.
“All of the live concerts were from original multitrack recordings on the nights,” Massey said. “I had ultimate separation, because I had kick, snare, guitar, David’s vocals, background vocals, keyboards, everything — but none of it’s mixed, and they’re all iconic songs. So don’t screw up, because everyone knows these songs.”
“I basically had carte blanche to do what I wanted with the music. And yeah, there are a lot of modern-day plugins used to answer the kit, for instance, or the bass and all the rest. But the players are unbelievable. I mean, amongst the best I’ve ever heard as raw tracks, and I had some great recordings to work from, even though they were still multitrack obviously, but they were well done,” he added. “Apart from the fact that we had however many songs to mix in however much time, it was a lot of fun. And I could really do whatever I wanted with that as multi-tracks in the space to try and recreate the concert environment.”
And re-create the concert environment, he did — Moonage Daydream is so in-your-face, so impactful, it almost feels like you’re actually there watching The Spiders From Mars in the early 1970s.
Moonage Daydream is now playing in theaters and IMAX.
Main Image: David Bowie pictured in Moonage Daydream courtesy of NEON.