Whenever David Bowie’s side career as an actor pops up in conversation, we generally find ourselves discussing his roles in classic films — or at least memorable films — like Jareth in Labyrinth or Agent Philip Jeffries in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. But hardly anybody ever mentions his early-career turn as The Boy in 1968’s The Image.
How could they? The overwhelming majority of the human race had no means to watch the thing until it showed up on YouTube in 2016.
The Wall Street Journal explains that the Thin White Duke’s very early screen effort garnered an X-rating from the British Board of Film Censors for its relatively graphic stabbing scenes. Consequently, the surreal short was shown exclusively in porno theaters at the time of its release. Of course, if The Image had hit the market in 2017, it would’ve fallen safely into PG-13 territory. Goes to show how times change, dunnit?
“It got an X-certificate. I think it was the first short that got an X-certificate. For its violence, which in itself was extraordinary,” director Michael Armstrong told the WSJ.
Armstrong also recalled that when Bowie attended a screening, the future Aladdin Sane was amused by the audience’s reaction. Understandably, a crowd who paid to see something they could easily J.O. to didn’t know what to make of Armstrong and Bowie’s wordless, haunting opus.
The plot of The Image has been compared to It Follows — although I’m guessing Armstrong drew inspiration from The Picture of Dorian Grey or maybe even Frankenstein. An artist played by Michael Byrne paints a picture of a young man who via some unspecified supernatural force, appears in the flesh to stalk his inadvertent creator. Totally freaked out, the painter keeps trying to kill this otherworldly, profoundly handsome intruder, and (Spoiler Alert) his efforts don’t pan out very well.
Bowie transcended the mortal plane last year, and holy crackers is he ever missed. Oddly enough, Ziggy Stardust’s final record Black Star brandishes a dark theatricality and spooky suaveness not unlike The Image. The title track’s video even conveys a similar aura — albeit with far greater expertise and resources. Behold….