“Oh no, don’t say it’s true”
(ANCIANT = A New Career In A New Town)
Released in August 1980, the Ashes to Ashes single was accompanied by one of the better known Bowie promo videos, not to mention one of the most truly ground-breaking and hugely influential videos to boot.
Bowie retained the services of David Mallet for this Bowie/Mallet-directed short (Bowie’s first credited direction), to promote the lead single from the forthcoming 1980 album, Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps).
Ashes to Ashes was at the time the most expensive music video ever made and remains one of the most costly of all time. It incorporated scenes both in solarised colour and a new black sky effect, used by Mallet for the first time.
Featuring Bowie in the Natasha Korniloff Pierrot costume that became the dominant visual representation of both the Ashes To Ashes single and the Scary Monsters album, the film also brought Steve Strange and other lead players of the burgeoning New Romantic London Blitz scene to the public eye.
The costal scenes were filmed in May 1980 at Pett Level, East Sussex, with one of the most memorable being the shot of Bowie and the Blitz Kids marching towards the camera in front of a bulldozer, which Bowie later described as “symbolising oncoming violence”.
Other moments included Bowie (revisiting Major Tom, perhaps), in some kind of black rubber space suit, seated in a space vehicle chair. This all takes place in an exploding kitchen, as a female nurse fusses around in the background.
This scene and another in a high-ceilinged padded cell were first utilised in Bowie’s performance of Space Oddity on The Kenny Everett New Year Show in 1979. Filmed in September 1979, it wasn’t broadcast until December 31st, 1979. Both scenes were recreated for the May 1980 filming of Ashes To Ashes, the continuity experts among you will notice the very obvious differences.
Ashes To Ashes closes with Bowie/Major Tom (?) in some kind of protective suit with life-support hoses coming from him in a womb-like cocoon of a room, that had a distinct flavour of H. R. Giger’s designs for Alien, a film released the previous year, which Bowie loved.
The final scenes also included the Bowie Pierrot and an elderly woman lecturing him as they strolled along the beach to the fade out of “My mother said to get things done, You'd better not mess with Major Tom”.
This prompted people to think it was Bowie’s real mother in the video, it wasn’t. Though what it actually was, was a recreation of the old lady with Pierrot as depicted in George Underwood’s painting on the back of the David Bowie Phillips album (AKA, Space Oddity).
Watch the full Ashes To Ashes video here.
FOOTNOTE: Michael Dignum tells of a hilarious moment during the filming at Pett Level, which Bowie purportedly recounted to him during the making of Miracle Goodnight. It’s full of fruity language though, and therefore not for the faint-hearted.
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