From starring roles in films such as The Man Who Fell to Earth and Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence to smaller parts in the likes of The Last Temptation of Christ and Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, David Bowie made as much a mark on the world of film as it did on music and fashion. But it wasn’t just his acting that left an impression on movie-going audiences; numerous films have made use of his music to powerful effect. In honor of his recent passing, here are a few of our favorite appearances of David Bowie songs in the movies. We’ll miss you, starman.
“Cat People (Putting Out Fire),” Inglourious Basterds (2009)
I’m not much of a fan of Quentin Tarantino or his movies, but I still love this scene from 2009’s World War II fantasy Inglourious Basterds. Not only does “Cat People,” which Bowie originally penned for Paul Schrader’s 1982 remake of the same name, foreshadow the fire that Hitler and company are about to feel, it works along with the bold and rich reds of Shoshanna’s dress and lipstick, as well as the Nazi flags behind her, to add a little more pop to the scene.
“I’m Afraid of Americans,” Showgirls (1995)
David Bowie’s 1997 Trent Reznor homage “I’m Afraid of Americans” first appeared as a rough mix in the background of a club scene in Paul Verhoeven’s crass opus Showgirls. No matter what your opinion of the film is, you have to admit, the song fits perfectly. Although this unfinished version has different lyrics (“I’m afraid of the animals” instead of “I’m afraid of Americans”), it still functions as a powerful thesis to Verhoeven’s Eurotrash take on the enormity of American appetites. David Bowie’s afraid of Americans, and Paul Verhoeven is too.
“I’m Deranged,” Lost Highway (1997)
This track from 1. Outside, Bowie’s 1995 collaboration with Brian Eno, makes for a fitting opening to David Lynch’s equally deranged erotic thriller Lost Highway. As David Bowie’s voice floats above an industrial backbeat, two headlights shine into the black night of Bill Pullman’s soul, illuminating the interstate ahead. Opening credits in a bold yellow font rush out of the black. It’s an unsettling start to a movie that will only get more unsettling as it drives into the darkness.
“Modern Love,” Mauvais Sang (1986)
My favorite use of a David Bowie song in film, and the clip I had to watch first upon hearing news of his death, is this one, from Leos Carax’s 1986 sci-fi romance Mauvais Sang (Bad Blood in English). Noah Baumbach’s homage to this scene in Frances Ha might be more well-known than the original, but for me, it’s Denis Lavant’s tortured and spastic performance that best captures the ecstasy and the agony of one of my favorite David Bowie tunes.
“That’s Motivation,” Absolute Beginners (1986)
Julien Temple’s Absolute Beginners, a movie-musical tribute to adolescent life in the wild London streets of the late 1950s, is an odd film; it’s sort-of like a British Xanadu, except about racial violence and urban renewal instead of rollerskating. Although his sweetly saccharine title song might be a touch more famous, it’s Bowie’s big musical number, “That’s Motivation,” that steals the show. If you’ve ever wanted to see David Bowie dance on top of a giant typewriter, Absolute Beginners has your number. Overall, it’s a mess of a movie, but Bowie’s bit part and a colorful sense of mise-en-scéne, Absolute Beginners might be worth reconsideration. Stay for the musical cameo from Sade too.