A look back at David Bowie’s first acting role in ‘The Image’

Rising from the ashes of a failed music career as David Jones, David Bowie became one of the most electrifying figures the industry has ever seen. Known for his pioneering approach to music, fashion, personality, and acting, Bowie was an artist who constantly reinvented himself as different personas, from the glamorous Ziggy Stardust to the suave Thin White Duke.

Bowie’s career as a performer saw him attempt various outlandish acts, such as attempting to fly onstage or walking on the hands of the audience. Inspired by the bizarre drug-fuelled antics of Iggy Pop, with whom he soon became close friends, Bowie saw his opportunities to perform in front of a crowd as a chance to portray someone other than himself: a way of Act. He once told Cameron Crowe for Rolling Stone, “I always had a kind of repulsive need to be something more than human. I felt very, very weak as a human being. I thought, ‘Fuck that. I want to be a superman.’”

The musician took it upon himself to become more than just a man standing in front of a crowd, simply reciting songs and playing instruments. Instead, he dressed in colorful fabrics or sometimes very little, adorned his face with bright makeup, and put on a theatrical show.



He created characters as a form of protection and a means to express his multifaceted nature, impersonating characters who seemed to have plummeted from another planet. So it was only natural that Bowie would embark on an acting career alongside his music, starring in several cult classics, such as The man who fell to earth, where he appropriately played the alien lead. Released in 1976 and directed by Nicolas Roeg, the film further cemented Bowie as an iconic figure, closely associating him with the otherworldly image of himself.

Subsequently, the artist starred in many films during the 1980s and 1990s, such as Tony Scott’s HungerMartin Scorsese The last temptation of Christby David Lynch Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me and Jim Henson Labyrinth, in which he played a Goblin King. However, Bowie’s acting career actually stretches back further than his successful music career.

Bowie began playing music as a teenager, releasing his debut single, ‘Liza Jane’, as David Jones with the King Bees when he was 17 years old. Under the management of Leslie Conn, Bowie was unsuccessful, leading him to break the contract. He failed to find acclaim with the release of his following singles and self-titled debut album, which led him to begin studying mime under Lindsay Kemp, who later trained Kate Bush.

As a drama student, Bowie became well versed in theater and the idea of ​​creating different characters, preparing him for his future as an actor and performer. During this period, Bowie went on tour with T. Rex, opening his shows with his strange mime. In the book Ziggyology: A Brief History of Ziggy Stardust by Simon Goddard, explained that the mime performance was “ruined by jeers from left-wing students and furious hippies over his damning portrayal of China’s Red Guard.”

After starring in the stage production of Kemp pierrot in turquoise In 1967, Bowie landed a role in a short horror film, The picture, two years later. Her performance in the Michael Armstrong-directed piece marked her first on-screen acting role. The 14-minute black-and-white film features Michael Byrne as a painter creating a portrait of a man who resembles Bowie. Soon enough, the man himself appears as a ghost, haunting the artist as he passes through the window.

On Armstrong’s website, a synopsis reads: “a study of the world of illusory reality within the schizophrenic mind of the artist at his point of creativity.” Although Byrne’s character repeatedly attempts to kill Bowie’s apparition, he continues to pursue it.

Talking with him Wall Street Journal, Armstrong explained how the film was initially screened between two pornos in a cinema in Piccadilly Circus. He said: “Whether David had gone in alone, I don’t know, but he said he felt really strange sitting there by himself, in this theater with all these guys in their raincoats.”

The picture it became one of the first and only short films to receive an X rating. “For its violence, which in itself was extraordinary,” Armstrong said. The director, who described Bowie as “very pretty” and “flirtatious”, chose the young musician to star in his film because he was a fan of his early work. Recalling anecdotes from the shoot, Armstrong explained that his assistant used a hose to replicate the rain in a scene, although they accidentally “aimed[ed] the hose at David and hit him square in the back with water from the hose. And he is moving it. So David is soaked.”

According to the director, “We actually said, ‘David, come on in, get warm,’ and he said, ‘No, no, I’m fine.’ I think he was terrified to move. By the time we got the shot, he walked in and he was literally blue. He was brilliant blue. We had to strip him down and put him in front of the lights to warm him up.” Bowie and Byrne apparently couldn’t hide their laughter from him while filming the scenes where the former was being killed. “It was all the awkwardness of it all – for the two of them to try to keep a straight face during this dramatic moment was too much.”

The film remains a fascinating capsule of the early career of David Bowie, who would soon become an international superstar and rock and roll icon. Watch the movie below.