Acting Alien: David Bowie and Another 10 Rockers That Don’t Suck On-Screen

To celebrate its 35th anniversary, a new 35 mm print of Nicholas Roeg’s The Man Who Fell To Earth is doing a Summer/Fall tour.  Starting today that print will...

To celebrate its 35th anniversary, a new 35 mm print of Nicholas Roeg’s The Man Who Fell To Earth is doing a Summer/Fall tour.  Starting today that print will spend a week at Ritz at the Bourse.  Of all of David Bowie’s film roles, this sci-fi tale of an extraterrestrial who falls to Earth is certainly his most autobiographical.

The Man Who Fell to Earth is also, perhaps, the best example of a musician becoming a legitimate cinematic figure.  I mean, this wasn’t Vanilla Ice/Eminem starring in a glorified bio-pic about his own life or Justin Timberlake doing a romantic comedy alongside Meg Griffin meant to reassure slutty twenty-and-thirtysomethings that maybe true love is in their near future.  This is the guy who directed Walkabout making a screen legend of the guy who wrote “Life on Mars?”

And this wasn’t the only time Mr. Bowie didn’t-make-a-fool-of-himself on the silver screen.  Although best known for his roles as head Campire and a Post-Muppet, he’s contributed to a number of legitimate cinematic works as well.  In addition to Roeg, he’s also been directed by Martin Scorsese, Julian Schnabel, Nagisa Oshima, and David Lynch.  In fact, I’m pretty sure he’s featured in more Criterion releases than any other musician (someone check on that).

And this insane lad isn’t quite the only musician to make a less-than-embarrassing impression in celluloid.  In fact, there are at least ten others.  Here’s a list.

10. Refused

Refused may have only appeared once on film and it may have only been a short film, however, Refused are Fucking Dead might be the most sublimely beautiful film ever made about Rock’N’Roll… in addition to being the most saccharinely gimmicky.

9. The Rolling Stones

Although most of you assume this placement to be warranted by Gimme Shelter (Yes, we can all agree that homicide is sexy and I fully understand why this is the most famous film about The Stones), but it has far more to do with Jean-Luc Godard’s One Plus One.  There’s something brilliant about the world’s biggest pop group allowing themselves to be transformed into Marxist propaganda by cinema’s most infamous radical leftist.

8. Iggy Pop

There’s something cool about such a seminal figure of music history not only allowing his music to be used anywhere, but actively participating (i.e. acting) in pretty much anything he’s offered (aside from his latest biopic).  Among the plethora of lighthearted, children’s kitsch he’s appeared in (Pete & Pete, The Rugrats, Snow Day), he’s also partaken in a good deal of really clever, nuanced, well-made adult kitsch (Cry Baby, Dead Man, Tank Girl).

7. Charlotte Gainsbourg

I’m not terribly familiar with Charlotte’s vocal abilities, but her performance as “She” in Lars von Trier’s Antichrist is the most intentionally ironic erotic thing I have ever seen.  Coming to American Theatres November 4, 2011: Gainsbourg as another ineffably arousing tortured female in von Trier’s Melancholia.

6. Lydia Lunch

I’m sure that Lydia Lunch would be deeply offended to be considered a “musician,” so, for that, I apologize.  However, the fact that she produced one of the most genius musical transgressions of the 70s (Teenage Jesus and the Jerks) and went on to be the muse of the 80s’ coolest film movement (The Cinema of Transgression) means that she simply must be a part of this list.

5. Courtney Love

Courtney Love is the perfect example of how to use a rock star in film.  Ms. Love isn’t classically trained in anything, so you need to pander to her strengths.  The powerful female who, against all odds, escapes an abusive relationship?  No.  The strong, yet eccentric, single mother of five who struggles to provide for her family in the housing projects?  No.  A dominatrix?  Nancy Spungen’s buddy?  One of Basquiat’s broads?  Larry Flynt’s drug-addled bitch?  Joan-Fucking-Vollmer Burroughs?  YES, YES, YES!!!

4. Rob Zombie

I realize that this entry alienates me from both hipsters and cinephiles, but House of 1000 Corpses, The Devil’s Rejects, Halloween, and Halloween II are the only movies that have gotten me into a megaplex in the past decade which, if you know me, is quite a shining accomplishment.

3. The Dandy Warhols

Not only did the Dandys star in Dig!, the best rock doc since Dont Look Back, but they were also featured in Michael Winterbottom’s 9 Songs, which is more or less 69 minutes of unsimulated sex, drugs, and Rock’N’Roll… in other words, the most Rock’N’Roll film ever made about Rock’N’Roll.

2. Pixies

The Pixies aren’t cinematic in any traditional sense.  In fact, the 2006 documentary loudQUIETloud: a film about The Pixies confirmed that they’re about as exciting as your uncle whose band once won a contest to open for Depeche Mode on the local stop of the Black Celebration tour.  But isn’t that the most charming thing about them?  Anyone who can write a pop song about Un  chien andalou deserves an A+ in life.  And a band that can, additionally, turn Eraserhead’s musical number into a charming slow dance deserves extra credit.

1. Bjork

I’m well aware that my language makes it incredibly apparent that I am constantly trapped in about a billion of my own, hypothetical romances, but Lars von Trier’s Dancer in the Dark includes the most impressive contribution of a musician to cinema that history will ever see.


During the day Izzy Cihak teaches transgression, subversion, and revolution at Temple University. At night he haunts Philthy's best venues to cover worthwhile acts for Philthy Mag. Morrissey is everything to him and, in their own heads, all of his friends see themselves as Zooey Deschanel.