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David Bowie: In cameo

journal contribution
posted on 01.01.2018, 00:00 authored by Sean RedmondSean Redmond
In this article I will explore three film and television fiction cameo roles that David Bowie has performed in. I will suggest that he brings the complexity of his shifting star image to each cameo performance, drawing on competing and sometimes conjoining artistic traditions as he does so. I will make use of the parameters of posing and mimicry, self-reflexivity and cultish subversion, and the shifting ground of modernism and postmodernism to show how Bowie’s cameo performances are not singular or consistent but refer to the specificities of the text in question, the other authors and actors involved, and to the multi-grain nature of his star self. When Bowie embodies a cameo role, a series of intersecting star and performance registers are in play that suggest he is always in cameo.

The three texts that I have chosen to analyze are, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (Lynch, 1992), Zoolander (Stiller, 2001), and Extras (the ‘David Bowie’ episode, 2006, Gervais). These texts occur across film and television, artistic and commercial streams, and take place over a 20-year performance period, allowing one to see how Bowie embodies and breaks-down the very constituents of the cameo role. I will be predominately using those texts where David Bowie appears as David Bowie, the exception being Twin Peaks where he takes on the “disappearing” role of FBI Agent Phillip Jeffries. These texts also allow me to address the various plateaus of Bowie’s star image since they each draw upon different and competing moments from his career.

The questions that frame my reading of these cameo performances are: which David Bowie is being brought into view? and how is the text using him, and why? I will take each text in chronological order, both to “narrate” the cameo in relation to the perceived notion of the artist’s career progression, but also to build up sedimentary layers of analysis: one cameo builds upon the previous one, and yet calls it forth, in the same way Bowie’s star images linger on. To repeat, then, I will suggest that the shape-shifting David Bowie ultimately compliments, and in part resides in, the floating landscapes of his – always in play - cameo performances.



Cinema journal








150 - 157


University of Texas Press


Austin, Tex.







Publication classification

C1 Refereed article in a scholarly journal

Copyright notice

2018, University of Texas Press