Early David Bowie Snapshot Before Ziggy

Hollywood has avoided dramatizing music legend David Bowie’s life despite a recent rash of successful biopics about other rock icons like Elton John and Freddie Mercury. That is primarily due to Bowie’s estate controlling most of his music discography, which prevents licensing Bowie’s most famous hits without their approval. Hollywood has no intention of making a Bowie biopic without his songs backing the movie. Stardust goes in another creative direction, tackling an early period in Bowie’s career when the young musician is still developing his own identity and navigating the pressures of the music business.

Co-writer and director Gabriel Range’s Stardust uniquely captures an unsure Bowie on an American promotional tour before he’d adopt the Ziggy Stardust persona and become an international music icon. Fearful he’d lose his record deal after nothing but the Space Oddity single had done well, Bowie latches on to a hopeful Mercury Records publicist from America that promises him Rolling Stone. The record label has no idea how to promote Bowie and his latest album, The Man Who Sold The World.

Stardust uniquely captures an unsure Bowie on an American promotional tour before he’d adopt the Ziggy Stardust persona

Arriving in America expecting a rock star’s welcome, the reality for the British musician is far from glamorous. Bowie arrives as an unwelcome outsider, unable to play along with the constraints of American radio and mainstream appeal. Due to an improper visa, Bowie is also forbidden from playing concerts in the country. Bowie’s first wife Angela clashes with the record label over her husband’s treatment.

Starring Johnny Flynn, Marc Maron, and Jena Malone, the elephant in the room is how Stardust cleverly avoids employing Bowie’s actual music despite being set during a pivotal moment in his early music career. The most creative solution Stardust employs for licensing issues is Flynn singing a cover of Jacques Brel’s Port of Amsterdam, a song Bowie himself famously covered and played live frequently during the 1968-1972 period. The soundtrack is largely disappointing if you come expecting hits like Starman and other pop classics from Bowie.

Flynn’s nuanced and sensitive portrayal paints an intelligently constructed portrait of the future icon, despite the actor’s less-than-perfect singing ability. He’s certainly no Bowie as a singer but is almost brilliant presenting Bowie’s elusive personality. An engaging, intimate performance that more than compensates for Marc Maron’s loud and aggressive acting as an overworked, under appreciated music publicist.

The period covered is a fascinating time in Bowie’s career when it was still uncertain whether or not he’d ever become a rock star. The movie frames Bowie struggling with his brother Terry’s mental problems, fearful he may fall victim to the same issues.

Stardust attempts with some success showing how Bowie hit upon the idea of an alter-ego for his music, inventing the Ziggy Stardust persona that took the music world by storm with Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars. The movie can’t help but pepper the narrative with quick “cameos” from the era such as Bowie’s encounters with Marc Bolan, Mick Ronson, and Andy Warhol.

Stardust is vital for Bowie’s millions of fans across the world with its inspired production design and flamboyant visuals. Amusing storytelling and elegant character development create an entertaining snapshot of early Bowie. The plot may not completely reflect history faithfully but the absorbing tale does a great job with David Bowie as a mesmerizing subject. The highs and lows of rock stardom depict a young man in transition from ordinary rocker to transcendent music star.


The authentic costumes (check out Bowie’s trendy man dress!) and period details are seen in a solid 1.85:1 presentation with crisp definition. The classic cinematography goes for a slightly muted aesthetic that reflects an early ’70s vibe. Shout Factory provides a technically sound, faithful transfer for the BD. The main feature runs 109 minutes, receiving a transparent AVC encode with top-notch parameters on a BD-50.

Stardust looks nice in HD, falling short of reference video. This is definitely a new movie with striking clarity and stunning detail in tighter shots. The color palette embraces an autumn tone with brown and amber highlights. Black levels hold up during darker scenes while exteriors help the video pop with vivid depth.


Stardust’s primary 5.1 DTS-HD MA nicely captures the film’s dialogue-driven drama and louder musical bursts. The score is spread across the soundstage with gentle separation. Stardust’s bass is appropriately robust and tight when necessary. Dynamics are rather excellent without drowning out any dialogue. The brief musical performances offer a wider, more expansive soundstage with great acoustics.

Optional English and Spanish subtitles play in a white font. A secondary 2.0 DTS-HD MA soundtrack and Audio Descriptive track are included.


Stardust (2020) hits Blu-ray courtesy of Shout! Factory and IFC Films. The disc is coded for Region A. A cardboard slipcover is available on first pressings. Special features are scant, as seen below.

Stardust Trailer (02:11 in HD)

IFC Films Trailers (06:41 in HD) – Trailers for Embattled, No Man’s Land, and The Night all play before the main menu.

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

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A tantalizing and flamboyant depiction of David Bowie rock star before he’d adopt the Ziggy Stardust persona.

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The following six screen shots serve as samples for our subscription-exclusive set of 43 full resolution, uncompressed HD screen shots grabbed directly from the Blu-ray:

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