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“The Sacred Triangle: Bowie, Iggy & Lou 1971-1973″ focuses on three 70s rock icons
The Sacred Triangle: Bowie, Iggy & Lou 1971-1973 — now streaming on our Night Flight Plus channel — is a fascinating documentary about the intertwining careers of David Bowie, Lou Reed, and Iggy Pop. At 106 minutes, it’s a dizzying attempt to describe exactly who inspired what, with the ultimate conclusion being that all three benefited greatly from each other. Still, the tale is complicated, which makes this movie essential for anyone wanting to get the story straight.
This 2010 documentary from Chrome Dreams Media (distributed by MVD Entertainment) combines new interviews with great older footage.
The tale begins with Bowie on the verge of his “Ziggy Stardust” era, so there are vintage performances by the original Spiders from Mars lineup — Mick Ronson on guitar, Woody Woodmansey on drums, and Trevor Bolder on bass — including scenes from the infamous farewell show at the Hammersmith Odeon (captured on film by D.A. Pennebaker).
There’s also plenty of footage featuring Reed from his Andy Warhol years, and Iggy during his time with the Stooges.
The film is helped by Thomas Arnold’s classy narration, with additional commentary from the likes of former Iggy Pop manager Danny Fields, Warhol scenester Billy Name, and transgendered recording artist Jayne County.
Of course, a documentary of this type isn’t complete without the rock intelligentsia, so we’re treated to amusing stories from authors Victor Bockris and Paul Trynka, among others.
Some of the most pointed commentary comes from Leee Black Childers, a key member of Bowie’s management team. Early on, Childers recalls how Bowie would cherry pick ideas:
“He took a lot from Iggy. He took a lot from Lou. I said, ‘You know, you just take things from people.’ He said, ‘Ah, that’s my talent. I know what things to take.'”
What’s most compelling about The Sacred Triangle is that it kills the myth that Bowie simply became famous and “rescued” two of his idols from obscurity.
In fact, Bowie wasn’t a big success when he first met Reed. He’d had a hit U.K. single in 1969 with “Space Oddity,” but was usually perceived as a marginal artist who’d not yet found his voice.
When Bowie came to New York in 1971 and signed with RCA, he was brought to a party where he encountered Reed.
Bowie was awestruck, and Reed was savvy enough to understand that the young Brit could be useful to him. It was during this initial conversation that Bowie suggested he produce Reed’s next album, which turned out be the highly regarded Transformer.
Remarkably, that same New York junket saw Bowie meet Iggy Pop at Max’s Kansas City, the legendary rock club. Iggy, his career in a shambles because of drug use, felt an instant connection to Bowie.
As the movie suggests, Iggy and Bowie were actually quite similar beneath their vastly different exteriors. Both were well-read, intellectually curious young men. The well-known clip of Iggy being lifted into the air by an audience may well have given Bowie the inspiration to create a rock god named Ziggy.
The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders From Mars, which would blast Bowie to stardom, arrived in June 1972. Weeks later, Bowie appeared on England’s Top of the Pops where his rendition of “Starman” would ignite his career.
His glittering costume, and the simple gesture of dangling his arm around Mick Ronson’s shoulder, sent a message out to viewers: this was a new world where androgyny ruled. Kids who were tired of heavy metal or folk rock had a new icon in Bowie.
By August 1972, he was in London’s Trident Studios, working with Reed. It’s interesting to learn that Bowie wasn’t the sole driving force behind Transformer.
As The Sacred Triangle points out, it was Ronson who dominated that production. Ronson played piano on “Perfect Day,” sang background vocals, provided string arrangements for most of the songs, and as he humorously explains in the movie, kept Reed’s guitar in tune.
Where Bowie shined was as a sort of emotional support system for the bristly Reed, who was going through an unhappy phase.
Reed had actually considered retiring from music after five intense years as leader of the Velvet Underground; his tired mental state had been evident on Lou Reed, his half-hearted first solo album. Bowie’s support and Ronson’s musical talents helped give Reed the sort of commercial success he’d never had before.
Transformer would eventually be certified gold in France and Australia, and platinum in the United Kingdom. Reed even started wearing makeup and nail polish, a likely offshoot of Bowie’s own theatrics.
The movie also reexamines Bowie’s influence on Iggy’s Raw Power album. Bowie fans might be surprised to learn that he wasn’t even in the studio when it was recorded, and only came in later for the remix.
Raw Power, though an influence on punk bands everywhere, was a misunderstood flop at the time, hastily assembled and poorly promoted.
Still, Bowie and Iggy remained friends, and would continue to work together throughout the 1970s. (Bowie would produce and co-write many of the songs on Pop’s The Idiot and Lust For Life albums, which were recorded in Germany and feel like distant relatives of Bowie’s own albums of the period, Low and Heroes.)
It’s hard to say who was the most influential of the three, or who belongs at the top of the triangle. It’s tempting to pick Bowie, though both Bowie and Iggy admit to being deeply influenced by Reed. And without Iggy to draw from, would Bowie have successfully created the Ziggy Stardust persona?
Without Bowie, would Iggy ever find the commercial success of Lust For Life, which is, more or less, a Bowie album with Iggy on vocals? Without Bowie, would Reed have pulled himself together to record his biggest hit, “Walk on the Wild Side”? What would that song sound like without Ronson’s influence?
These questions can be pondered long into the night.
Producer, director, and editor Alec Lindsell — who also happens to be behind another Night Flight Plus offering, Brian Eno: The Man Who Fell To Earth — not only explores how the careers of these three unique performers dovetailed into each other, but also addresses the many other factors at work, including Andy Warhol, whose impact on all three was huge; Bowie’s bullish manager, Tony Defries, who seemed to will Bowie into prominence; glam rocker Marc Bolan, whose influence on Bowie can’t be underestimated; and of course, Bowie’s first wife Angie, who lights up the movie with her brassy presence.
“We were just trying,” she says, “to hit the big time.”