This month marks the 35th anniversary of the release of David Bowie’s The Lodger. The third of his ground-breaking ‘Berlin Trilogy’ produced with Brian Eno, at the time the album was viewed as a disappointment (somewhat as groups like the Talking Heads were in a similar Eno-influenced space), but has since been re-appraised, especially in the last decade. Groups today like Vampire Weekend, MGMT and Arcade Fire have all acknowledged a debt.
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One of the reasons for the re-appraisal was Bowie’s visual and conceptual approach to the album. His videos for Lodger tracks ‘Boys Keep Swinging,’ ‘Look Back In Anger’ and ‘DJ,’ as well as a December 1979 appearance on SNL with Joey Arias, Klaus Nomi and band were perhaps more influential than much of the music itself. Visually he was incorporating many of the eclectic exoticism and cut-up techniques found in the sound, but a subtle underlying theme of influence can be found in the album’s title. The some have cited a likely influence of Roman Polanski’s 1976 The Tenant, a much more deeply obvious influence was Alfred Hitchcock’s groundbreaking silent thriller from about 50 years earlier, The Lodger (1927), starring Ivor Novello (and available on FilmOn’s free VoD service).
It seems Bowie, whose sole award during his entire classic period was the Ivor Novello namesake honor in 1969 given by the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors for ‘Space Oddity,’ had based his 1979 persona at least somewhat on the Welsh creative polymath during his 1927 work with Hitchcock (which also included on FilmOn VoD’s Downhill).
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If one is familiar with Bowie’s work of this period, it merely adds an extra twist to the viewing of what is already a classic, as well as the first flowering of Hitchcock’s dark genius. Bowie’s sidewalk sashays in the ‘DJ’ video are a 70‘s update on the crowded and frenetically nightmarish London street scenes in The Lodger, while his visual and lyrical torment in his attic garret in the ‘Look Back In Anger’ video mirror Novello’s in the rented upstairs room in Shoreditch.
Another classic scene in Hitchcock’s film is the fashion show, which is gets twisted reference in Bowie’s ‘Boys Keep Swinging’ video, itself a mass-media pop visual template most recently furthered by Conchita Wurst at Eurovision. Other lyrical themes can be found in Lodger album songs such as “Move On,” or “Repetition” that reflect the warping of German ideas through an English lens (Hitchcock and Novello were definitely hip to their contemporaries Veidt, Murnau and Lang, just as Bowie was later hip to Kraftwerk, Can and Neu!). Jump into this classic silent rabbit hole of creative horror yourself and see what you find among the wonders.
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