Everyone has to start somewhere. David Bowie may have turned in impressive performances in Labyrinth and The Man Who Fell To Earth, but his first ever movie role was starring in The Image, a 13-minute short film that's most charitably described as enjoyably bad. The short has been officially published online for the first time by The Wall Street Journal (embedded above), but was first shown in a London movie theater in 1967 as an intermission between two sex films.
The Image has no dialogue, and tells the story of "The Artist" (actor Michael Byrne) who is haunted by an apparition of one of his paintings (Bowie as "The Boy"). The film's director Michael Armstrong told the WSJ that apart from the struggles of a tiny budget, one of the difficulties in filming The Image was stopping the crew from laughing, especially during a scene in which Bowie is being stabbed while leaning over a bannister.
"There’s him trying to die, while he’s trying not to fall over."
"And so there’s him trying to die, while he’s trying not to fall over. There’s Mike trying to prop him up a bit, and David’s trying to lean over at the right angle," Armstrong told The Wall Street Journal. "It was the whole awkwardness of it — the two of them trying to keep a straight face during this dramatic moment was just too much."
The film received a now-defunct X rating due to its violence, although this name is perhaps misleading for modern audiences — it only meant that filmgoers had to be at least 16-years-old to see it. (British censors later said that they regretted the name given to the X certificate as it was too suggestive.) Bowie himself was only 20-years-old when the film was released, and two years away from "Space Oddity" — the single that would bring him to the attention of the public. After this there would be a string of artistic reinventions in music, fashion, and film. The Image was only the start.