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David Bowie | Best of Bowie (DVD) (EMI)
Similarly packaged, this 47 track double-disc set amounts to more than a visual companion to its almost exemplary CD namesake. Bringing other essential diamonds beneath the 'Best of' banner, neglecting certs like Golden Years (despite a performance on 'Soul Train' having previously been made available on a Rykodisc promotional video), and unsurprisingly biased to the latter half of Bowie's career as the promotional video became de rigeur and budgets soared whilst the quality of his work diminished significantly. So, double disc or no, it's a one disc summary of David Jones' seminal work in his various guises with a 20 track bonus disc of pretty visuals set to some invariably horrible music.

As expected, with the true advent on music video still some years away, many of the clips from the '70s are sourced from television appearances. The opening trio of Oh! You Pretty Things, Queen Bitch and Five Years all come from The Old Grey Whistle Test and look and sound amazing, before a vintage Top of the Pops performance of Starman sees Bowie hamming it up live over Ronson and Co's mimed backing. Three Mick Rock shot proto-promos follow, rudimentary exercises that encapsulate the mystique of the period despite their low-budget production values (particularly invigorating is the live/studio cut'n'paste montage of The Jean Genie). Other highlights include Bowie out-camping even Russell Harty on that latter's forgotten 'Harty Plus Pop', and Mick Rock's bleached out promo for the masterful Life on Mars?

Presented in DA Pennebaker's visceral but shoddily filmed live footage or by a laughably outdated Dutch TV lip-synch, it's a shame that pivotal songs like Ziggy Stardust and Rebel Rebel weren't documented with more finesse, but that's soon forgotten thanks to the compelling transformation that took place just 10 months later, evidenced by an animated Young Americans recorded (with an unfortunately uncompromising level of distortion) for US TV. From mulleted pirate to suited soul boy, this pairing embodies the experimentation and reinvention that epitomises Bowie through the '70s. Jump forward to 1977 (bypassing the wonderful 'Station to Station' album, at least temporarily), next up we enter the Eno phase of Bowie's career, represented by the pop-punch of Be My Wife (from 'Low'), the majestic Heroes, and then a trio from the patchy 'Lodger' album (the outrageous Boys Keep Swinging, surreal DJ and frankly awful treatment of Look Back in Anger). In 1980, of course, the video to Ashes to Ashes proved the power of the visual medium as promotional tool, helping him on his way to his second number one single. Worth noting here the absence on either format of one of Bowie's very best singles from this period, Up The Hill Backwards, and from the DVD Scary Monsters (& Super Creeps). Released after this successful period, 'Station to Station' standout Wild is the Wind was given a sympathetic, black and white treatment by David Mallet, who'd be at the helm for most of Bowie's videos from Boys Keep Swinging through the embarrassing duet with fellow 'legend' Mick Jagger, Dancing in the Street.

The commercially enormous and probably last essential Bowie album, 'Let's Dance' is represented by its three singles, the massive title track, his reworking of China Girl and the perky Modern Love. An unnecessary Cat People, derived from the 'Serious Moonlight' tour video precedes the only saving graces of the dismal 'Tonight' album, Blue Jean and the mildly pretentious Loving The Alien, before the first disc closes with the Live Aid money-spinner Dancing in the Street.

Before this turns into an essay-length critique, disc two can be summarised as a set of increasingly impressive visuals set to songs pulled from a handful of film soundtracks (Absolute Beginners, Underground and As The World Falls Down), and decidedly dodgy albums (pretty much everything else here), meaning that you'd have to be in a particularly charitable mood to sit through these twenty tracks after witnessing the genius of disc one.

Omissions aside, this DVD represents superb value for money with it's four and a quarter hour running time and boasts attractive menus/graphics.

Matt Dornan
December 2002