“Don’t wanna be a richer man / just gonna have to be a different man.”
The documentary Cracked Actor is a portrait of an enigma wrapped up in musical mystery. Filmed during David Bowie’s 1974 Diamond Dogs tour, it reveals a rail-thin, disoriented, fragile entertainer who says he never wanted to be a rock star—and then turns in one epic performance after the next. Produced for the BBC’s Omnibus series, it premiered on the network in 1975, but film and music rights prohibited its distribution outside the U.K., Europe, and Japan. Its first-ever U.S. theatrical screening is on Sunday, March 17, at the SVA/BBC Design Film Festival.
Cracked Actor shows a master of reinvention at his creative peak. Concert footage (often involving masks) is interspersed with candid offstage moments and poignant musings. Ziggy Stardust, Bowie tells an interviewer, “was an experiment that grew out of proportion. I got lost in Ziggy. He overshadowed everything.” The film ends with a performance of “Rock and Roll Suicide.” Bowie has effectively killed off his alter ego in front of his adoring fans.
Presented by the MFA Design and Design Criticism departments, the SVA/BBC Design Film Festival—now in its second year—is a daylong screening of docs rarely seen in the States. Chelsea Hotel looks at the historic residence as seen through the eyes of the iconoclasts who lived and worked there, among them Andy Warhol, William S. Burroughs, Virgil Thompson, and Quentin Crisp. And a quartet of shorts explores the design origins of the bra, deodorant, the Harley Davidson, and the London Underground map.
The event runs from 11am to 6pm and includes two Q&As with Cracked Actor director Alan Yentob. Admission for the full day is $15 for the general public, free for SVA students, and $10 for SVA faculty and alumni and non-SVA students. To order tickets, click here.