Inside David Bowie’s “The Stars (Are Out Tonight)”
Out of the mystic comes “The Stars (Are Out Tonight),” a new Bowie video. This one is a lot less oblique than the video that artist Tony Oursler made for “Where Are We Now?,” the first single from Bowie’s startling comeback album, and that’s mostly because director Floria Sigismondi’s natural genius with a twisted narrative (case in point: Marilyn Manson’s “The Beautiful People” promo) gels so well with what one imagines is Bowie’s own predilection for the cinematically perverse. “The Stars” sumptuously elevates the man and the myth to new heights.
This particular offering toys with the androgyny, the bravado, the decadence, the desire that turns an ordinary human being into a raving fan. It also has a strong contemporary-fashion quotient, appropriate given that Bowie was, in a way that the upcoming exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum will surely clarify, always inclined to the fashion experiment—from the early days of his Kansai jumpsuits to McQueen frock coats and Hedi Slimane suits.
Stylist Jerry Stafford was responsible for dressing the cast of five for the two-day shoot in L.A.: models Saskia de Brauw, Andrej Pejic, and Iselin Steiro, plus Bowie himself and his co-star Tilda Swinton, with whom Stafford has worked for fifteen years. Stafford is, like me, a child of Bowie, but he says there was no time on the set for fandom. “Everyone understood they were part of something special.” There was one moment when Stafford presented Bowie with a long coat, explaining to him it was by a designer named Rick Owens. “More Rick Wakeman than Rick Owens,” was the response, Wakeman being the wizard-coat-wearing keyboard king of Brit prog rock. “He played piano on ‘Life on Mars?,’ ” chimed in Stafford, the sole moment when he let himself indulge his know-every-last-detail trainspotter obsession. “And, indeed, on the whole of Hunky Dory,” Bowie said with a knowing smile.
In the video, Bowie and Swinton are like the couple from “Where Are We Now?”: comfortable in the twilight of their celebrity, but literally sucked back into the spotlight by two evil fame whores, while, in the apartment next door, a baby Bowie obsessive is clocking every wrinkle and warp in their relationship. Bowie wears a McQueen coat, a Lanvin suit, some checks from Kim Jones at Vuitton. Tilda wears a coat from Raf for Jil, some Raf for Dior, some Lanvin, Pringle, and Rick Owens. For the video’s last scene, when they have crossed back to the dark side of fame, Bowie and Swinton are all Hedi-for-Saint Laurent rock ’n’ roll glitz. The succubi sport a smorgasbord of the here and now, from VPL to KTZ.
And that present moment is clearly critical to Bowie. There are visual flickers of his past incarnations, but the remarkable way he has orchestrated the release of his new material, defying the leaks and hearsay that dog every other recording artist in this age of the electronic sieve, emphasizes his commitment to life in the moment. Right now. Reflecting on his experience working on the video, Jerry Stafford favored the bigger picture: “I died and went to heaven.”