Told from the unusual perspective of a building, Néjib’s Haddon Hall: When David Invented Bowie has the house tell-all about what it was like to have David Bowie as an occupant. Over the two springs he spent in the sprawling home David wrote “Oh You Pretty Things” and “Life on Mars,” learned he was going to be a first-time father, and decided on the glam look that would sky rocket his career.
Would a house that gave shelter to countless guests be overly fond of it’s owner? The choice to have the house narrate can be self-conscious and other times you forget about the slant, and it could be anybody talking. Forgetful moments may not be helpful to the conceit, but are usually preferred.
First names get used a lot. They’re not obscure but might trip up fans who love Bowie’s music but aren’t as familiar with his band mates or collaborators. An enlightening scene has David visit a record store, where the owner gives a formal assessment of his album, The Man Who Sold The World. A music aficionado would talk shop, but it’s not the only time characters are overly forthcoming with information. There’s a lot of biography laced into conversations. Like the house, you’re watching Bowie, not immersed in his life, and sometimes this creates disconnect from the material.
Where Haddon Hall is matchless is in Néjib’s art. Combining the running energy of A Hard Day’s Night with the animation of Yellow Submarine, it’s playful and freeing and period transporting, all at the same time. Take Mick Ronson pushing a wheel barrel, getting chased by Bowie and his producer, Tony Viconti, while yelling that he’s “a gardener now!” Ronson was a huge force on guitar during Bowie’s 70’s output. The ‘what ifs,’ had he stayed a gardener, are wild to consider.
Except for flashbacks to Bowie’s childhood, bright colors are almost universal and get expertly paired against white space, so as not to be overpowering. Thin lines are left incomplete, allowing figures to gel with the background, and there’s a lightness to characters’ features that are highly expressive.
Fear and uncertainty pervade, but the zestful tone of the art covers over them. Puce green figures speak in melted dialogue bubbles, reminding us about the consequences of drug use, while guilt and love encompass Bowie’s relationship with his half brother, Terry.
At Haddon Hall, “The Laughing Gnome” was a source of ridicule. Today the song is obscure because of the milestones made in that building.
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