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David Bowie in New York 1980 | The Elephant Man, Scary Monsters & Other Strange People | Documentary | 2020

This is an approximately 40-minute documentary that offers an overview of the 6 months that David Bowie was in the U.S., starring in the stage play, The Elephant Man.

The film’s primary focus is on Bowie’s New York experience during that pivotal period. It also outlines the play itself and something of the real-life Elephant Man. Culled from over 50 sources, all known scenes of Bowie as The Elephant Man character are included, along with music, interview and other pertinent archive material.

David Bowie played the part of the Elephant Man from July 1980 to January 1981, in Bernard Pomerance's 1977 play of the same name. The play was based on the real-life 19th century character Joseph “John” Merrick. It was directed by Jack Hofsiss, who recruited Bowie for the role.


It was Bowie’s first and only theater role, and it was a critical and commercial success. He was widely praised for his part in the play, contorting his body and voice to convey both the hideous deformities and the humanity of the unfortunate Merrick.


To commit so much time to The Elephant Man was an extraordinary decision for Bowie at that stage in his career. Performances were 5 or 6 nights, and 2 afternoon matinees per week. It seems incredible now that for “a person as grasshoppery as me”, as Bowie put it in an interview at the time, he would undertake such a routine for almost 6 months. It effectively blocked him from traveling and music performance, and large scale promotion of his new album. Touring or even comprehensively planning and rehearsing for one would have been impossible.


Bowie’s 1980 / 81 Elephant Man schedule was:

• Mid-July – 2 weeks of rehearsal in San Francisco

• July 29 to August 3 – performances at Denver's Centre of the Performing Arts

• August 5 to 31 – performances at Chicago's Blackstone Theatre

• September 1 - Rehearsals began for the Broadway run of The Elephant Man, with the New York cast

• September 23 to January 3, 1981 – performances at New York's Booth Theatre



Roger Griffin’s excellent David Bowie Golden Years book and web site, were an invaluable resource for this film:


Whilst I was in the early stages of working on the film, Chris O’Leary published “Scary Monsters at 40” on his Bowie blog, Pushing Ahead of the Dames. It influenced some aspects of this film:



The idea for this film originated in 2016 out of desperation to see / create a video for the Bowie ‘80 era. I toyed with using Elephant Man footage to make a video for the track Scary Monsters. Those experiments proved to be fruitless. But when telling a Bowie collector mate about them, he suggested making a “fake” TV ad, based on the real 1980 radio ad for Bowie in the Elephant Man play.


Whilst working on that, it occurred to me that there should be a documentary about Bowie in the play. And then the “fake” ad morphed into a hybrid of ad and trailer for an imaginary forthcoming documentary, then called: “David Bowie is The Elephant Man”. Well, four years and about 500 editing hours later, here is that documentary.


Thanks for watching, hope you dig it!


This documentray was referenced and informed the highly enjoyable and interesting and informative podcast:


DavidBowie: AlbumToAlbum Podcast 18 - Adam Buxton & Chris O'Leary on Scary Monsters (Part 2)

Broadcaster, comedian and Bowie aficionado Adam Buxton and author and and also Bowie expert Chris O'Leary join DavidBowie: AlbumToAlbum podcast host Arsalan Mohammad, for a colourful and lively plunge into Bowie's 1980 watershed album Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps).




Music by David Bowie:

It's No Game [No. 1] • Scary Monsters • 1980

Ashes to Ashes • "rehearsal" • 1980

Life on Mars • Tonight Show • 1980

Ashes to Ashes • Scary Monsters • 1980

Up the Hill Backwards [Early Version] • Unofficial • 1980

Fashion • Scary Monsters • 1980

Station to Station • Stage • 1978

Tired of My Life • Unofficial • 1970

It's No Game [No. 2] • Scary Monsters • 1980


Selected Video Sources:

Friday Night, Saturday Morning • BBC • UK • 1980

Countdown • ABC • Australia • 1980

Musik Szene • WDR • Germany • 1980

The Elephant Man • TV Movie • ABC • US • 1980

CBS News Chicago • Bob Sirott report • US • 1980

The Hunger • Tony Scott • 1982 NYC

35mm NYC Footage • The Kino Library • 1980

20/20 Show • ABC • US • 1980

Good Morning America • ABC • US • 1980

The True Story of the Elephant Man • BBC TV • UK • 1997

The Tonight Show • NBC • US • 1980

TF1 13 Heures • INA • France • 1980

Five Years • Frances Whateley • BBC TV • 2013

CBS News Channel 2 • US • 1980

Omnibus • ABC • US • 1980

Psychedelic Furs • "Live at Hurrah" • Nacho • 2020

Young Oh! Oh! • Japan • 1980

Aplauso • RTVE • Spain • 1980

Mixer • RAI • Italy • 1980

Christiane F • Uli Edel • 1981


Selected Audio Sources:

The Elephant Man • Performance at the Blackstone Theatre • Audience Recording • 12 August 1980

Interview with Andy Peebles • BBC • UK • December 1980



Always more videos to follow, so please keep your electric eye on me babe! I don't own the rights, and I'm not making any money out of this etc. Just a fan making videos for other fans.


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#DavidBowie #TheElephantMan #NewYork #ScaryMonsters #BoothTheatre

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