Filmmaker Brett Morgen has added Grammy winner to a list of career accomplishments that includes multiple Emmy wins and an Academy Award nomination.
His documentary Moonage Daydream, an immersive exploration of David Bowie’s creative process, won Best Music Film at the 66th Grammy Awards, a category handed out Sunday in the pre-telecast ceremony at the Crypto.com Arena in Los Angeles.
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In his acceptance speech, Morgen was effusive in his praise of the British rock star, songwriter, visual artist, and actor who died in 2016 at the age of 69.
“David Bowie,” he said as he held the gramophone trophy, “the single greatest artist who’s walked the face of this earth.”
Morgen also thanked his wife, Debra Eisenstadt — an executive producer of the film — their children and the executors of Bowie’s estate, including William “Bill” Zysblat.
“I met with David Bowie’s executors… And Bill said to me, ‘David is not here to authorize this film,’” Morgen explained during his acceptance speech. “’So, it cannot be Bowie on Bowie, you have to embrace it. It’s going to be Morgan on Bowie.’ And there are not a lot of people in this day and age who would hand over all of these archives and let me make an art project.”
Morgen, whose credits include The Kid Stays in the Picture, Cobain: Montage of Heck, Jane, and On the Ropes (the 1999 Oscar-nominated doc feature), almost died in the middle of working on Moonage Daydream.
“I was my own editor on this film, I was my own producer on this film, I felt very alone and responsible,” Morgen told Deadline at the Cannes Film Festival in 2022, where the documentary premiered. “During the course of making the film I had a heart attack and flatlined for a couple of minutes and was in a coma for a week.”
He added, “There’s a line in the film where David says, ‘The moment you realize that you’ve lived more days than you have in front of you is the moment you can really begin to live your life and an acceptance sits in.’ David had such equilibrium and balance—I didn’t know him personally, but from my experience of going through all the media—that I felt he was guiding me through my recovery, and in turn I was able to infuse that into the film, so it became about something much different. It became about life and a celebration of each moment.”
In the category of Best Music Film, Moonage Daydream competed with the Tupac Shakur-themed docuseries Dear Mama, directed by Allen Hughes; Little Richard: I Am Everything directed by Lisa Cortés; the Kendrick Lamar concert film Live From Paris, The Big Steppers Tour, directed by Mike Carson, Dave Free, and Mark Ritchie; and the Netflix “all access” Lewis Capaldi documentary How I’m Feeling Now, directed by Joe Pearlman.
Moonage Daydream, from HBO Documentary Films, Neon, and Universal Pictures, earned more than $13 million worldwide during its theatrical run, making it far and away the most successful documentary released in 2022-23.
There are biographical elements to Moonage Daydream, including Bowie’s formative relationship with his half-brother, Terry Burns, who suffered from schizophrenia. But it’s intended less as biography and more as a tour of Bowie’s very fertile mind.
“The goal was ultimately to invite the audience to have an intimate and sublime experience with the subject,” Morgen told Deadline late in 2022, “and hopefully arrive at what feels like a relatable and honest and authentic representation.”
The film explores how Bowie kept the prospect of suffering mental illness at bay. He also overcame drug addiction to continue as a creative force until the end of his life.
“The movie is very much about how he had to push himself,” Morgen said. “How he felt he had to put himself into the fire to create his art until he was able to arrive at a point in life where he could create amazing works of art without having to put himself into harm’s way. And that’s very much the kind of narrative of the film.”
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