• Beside Bowie: The Mick Ronson Story



    Released By: MVD Visual
    Released On: October 13, 2017.
    Director: Jon Brewer
    Cast: David Bowie, Mick Ronson, Angie Bowie, Ian Hunter, Glen Matlock, Lou Reed
    Year: 2017
    Purchase From Amazon

    The Film:

    A coincidence of timing found me checking out HIRED GUN on Netflix, a documentary about musical mercenaries; the best of the best players, handpicked by the biggest names in the music business to assist them on their sonic quest. From Alice Cooper to Billy Joel, HIRED GUN is kind of a hard rock version of THE WRECKING CREW, continuing the story of studio musicians for hire. The coincidence involves the subsequent arrival of Beside Bowie: The Mick Ronson Story, a documentary about "Ronno" Ronson, arguably one of the most innovative and influential rock guitarists to ever grace the stage and studio. Few would argue the talents of Mr. Ronson, whose stylish playing and memorable riffs helped to propel one David Bowie from English folk singer to bona fide, Stardusted Rock and Roll Star, but Ronson's talents weren't just limited to his skills on the six string. With Beside Bowie, film maker Jon Brewer attempts to portray just how influential Mick was in all aspects of Bowie's most prolific era.

    Of course, it's impossible to tell the story of David Bowie's right-hand man in The Spiders From Mars without telling the story of Bowie, himself, and it's via a number of impressive talking head interviews; with the likes of Bowie's ex-girlfriend, Mary Finnigan, Mick's wife, Suzi Ronson, and the outspoken Angela Bowie that we get a look at the early days of London in the Swingin' 60's. Out in the country, specifically the medieval estate of Haddon Hall, David Bowie was about to meet the man who would change his life forever; Hull-born guitarist Mick Ronson, who was looking for something more than playing with his local band, The Rats. A voiceover by Bowie talks about his impression of Mick at this first meeting, which was followed a very short while later with a radio performance in which the blond guitar slinger was invited to perform. Finding his way around the new material quickly and being able to improvise on the spot was an impressive feat and seemed to be a step forward; but with a lack of followup, Mick headed back to Hull to reform The Rats.

    Of course, as history shows, Mick wasn't happy staying in Hull, and hauled ass back out of there to take part in The Man Who Sold The World, Bowie's first "rock" album, and a sign of great things to come. At this point in Beside Bowie, we hear from pianist Rick Wakeman, who testifies to the greatness of Mick's arrangements and production on Hunky Dory, the album that truly launched the career of Bowie, with brilliant tracks like Changes, Life On Mars, and Oh! You Pretty Things. Def Leppard's Joe Elliott shows up to discuss studio outtake tapes he has in his possession that clearly define Mick as the session leader, shaping what would become known as Bowie's sound. That alleged influence would play a massive part in later recordings as well, arguably (there's that word, again) peaking with The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders From Mars, with Mick himself appearing to discuss the tricks and techniques that he used to achieve his tone, and photographer Mick Rock showing up to talk about his famous "fellatio" photograph and Mick's part in the Bowie sexuality scandal.

    From England, the documentary takes us to New York City where we hear of Bowie's influence or lack thereof on Andy Warhol's Factory scene, and the late Lou Reed shows up to talk about Mick's arrangements and production on his masterpiece album, Transformer. But things take a turn for the worse as we hear about Bowie's sudden resignation of The Spiders From Mars from the stage, and his subsequent replacement by Earl Slick after recording the Pin-Ups album; a move that Rolling Stone compared to Mick Jagger replacing Keith Richards in the Rolling Stones. Anxious to continue cashing in, Tony Defries and his company, MainMan tried to push Mick up as a solo act, but his debut effort...Slaughter...would only be compared to Bowie, and would fail to catapult the guitarist to the same brand of stardom. Joining Ian Hunter's Mott The Hoople had similar lower-grade results, and, though his skills as a producer, fondly recalled by Glen Matlock, were admirable, Mick lived from paycheck to paycheck, somehow missing out on royalties that were allegedly owed. True, he was regarded well by his previous employer, even joining Bowie onstage for All The Young Dudes at the Freddie Mercury Tribute concert, but not even a chance at new stardom with Morrissey could stop the cancer that quickly snuffed out his life. Mick Ronson died less than a month shy of his forty-seventh birthday, but, all cheesy cliches aside, left a legacy that will last forever.

    If anyone was going to be able to pull off a documentary on Mick Ronson, it was certainly Jon Brewer. With a career in the music industry that spans decades, Brewer is an accomplished filmmaker who clearly commands the respect of his subjects, and it shows in Beside Bowie. This is not an "Unauthorized Video Biography Of Insert Band Name Here", Brewer has assembled the people who knew Bowie and Mick best, elevating this documentary to a respectable standard. Not content to rely on interviews from Mick, Angie, Matlock, Lou Frickin' Reed, and the numerous other famous talking heads that grace the film, Brewer has also employed vintage photos, film footage, and yes, even models and some sort of weird claymation to tell his story, all to great success. With a soundtrack featuring the artists of the time including The Who, and of course, David Bowie, The Mick Ronson Story is a high-calibre production with impressive credentials.

    Sure, some of the source footage suffers a bit from...well, a number of things, including a youtube-like clip that shows up almost immediately, and sure, the pacing might lag here and there. But utilizing voiceovers from Bowie is a nice touch, and hooks the viewer in from the start...and if you don't get hit by a wave of emotion as Mick's sister Maggie breaks down discussing her brother's illness, you're some kind of alien....Brewer keeps this documentary provoking from start to finish. It's amusing to read the online reviews of "too much Bowie, not enough Mick", but really, the two go hand in hand. Without Bowie, there would be no Mick, and without Mick, the Bowie that we may have gotten would definitely not be the artist that we mourn today.

    Video/Audio/Extras:

    MVD brings Beside Bowie: The Mick Ronson Story to Blu-ray, with accompanying DVD. The Blu-ray was reviewed for this particular occasion, and I've got to say, it's worth the money. Sure, that aforementioned vintage footage varies from source to source, and I'm pretty sure that I saw somebody kick the tripod during the talking head interviews, but all in all, the picture here is solid, with no obvious interlacing or compression interviews. Framed at 1.78:1 and AVC-encoded, this is a nice-looking presentation

    Audio is provided courtesy of an LPCM 2.0 track, or DTS HD Master Audio 5.1. The 2.0 track is plenty fine for this, dynamically suited for the show with no issues, and the 5.1, if you have surround capabilities, does a great job of utilizing the rear speakers tastefully to carry the soundtrack while dialogue occurs front and centre. In any event, either track will do the job, though the edge goes to the surround for the delicate mix. No hisses, pops, or other issues, outside of the limitations of the source material, are present.

    Unfortunately, there are no subtitles available.

    Extras appear in the form of multiple extra interviews, totally almost a half hour. The only gripe here is that there's not a Play All feature, as it becomes quite annoying to bounce back to the supplement menu after every clip. The interviews, however, are well worth watching.

    The Final Word:

    Perhaps the only downside of Beside Bowie: The Mick Ronson Story is that I don't know how well it would play for somebody who isn't a musician. As a player, it's a fantastic work, and definitely worth the price of admission. As a casual viewer, I suppose that the largest takeaway is how much one largely unknown man was responsible for the massive success of another very well known man.


    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!