Everyone is cursed with a friend just that bit more successful than them. Annoyingly for Marc Bolan, glam rock superstar and lead singer of T. Rex, that friend was David Bowie, a fellow Londoner whose prenatural ability to shapeshift had started to leave Bolan in the shade by the time of his tragic death, aged 29.
That frenemyship is one intriguing angle in a music doc that’s not short of them. What, teases filmmaker Ethan Silverman, would Bolan’s career have looked like if he hadn’t taken that fateful car journey through south west London in 1977? Could he have shaken off the glam rock scene and reinvented himself for the era of punk (a genre he loved) or was he stuck in a gilded cage, all hairspray and mascara, as his cultural currency nosedived?
Conspicuously, the term ‘glam rock’ doesn’t even pop up until an hour or so into this very watchable, if slightly shapeless documentary – finally delivered by music journo-turned-filmmaker Cameron Crowe (Almost Famous) as he recalls interviewing an exuberant, champagne-fuelled Bolan in LA, poking the bear with the latest Bowie gossip.
Angelheaded Hipster wants to rescue Bolan’s rep from that glam ghetto and to celebrate his songwriting chops and dotty charm. Constructed around the making of a Bolan tribute album of the same name in 2020, it jags back and forth between archive footage of the man himself and clips of Beth Orton, The Edge, Father John Misty and other musicians recording and singing Bolan’s songs – and praises.
But studio footage is rarely as enthralling as filmmakers think, and the noodly interludes sap the doc’s loose energy. Nick Cave is an honorable exception, as he powers through a moving reinvention of ‘Cosmic Dancer’. U2 delivers a ‘Bang A Gong (Get It On)’ with all the louche sex appeal of a kipper.
Studio footage is rarely as enthralling as filmmakers think
Alongside frequent darts back to the mixing desk, footage of the man himself in his T. Rex pomp and new interviews with Bolan’s wife Gloria Jones and his son Rolan, both musicians, there’s a liberal sprinkling of archive interviews with Elton John, Ringo Starr, Bowie and other contemporaries. It’s a jam with a few too many instruments playing.
Then again, you won’t walk away without a new-found appreciation for the man behind bangers like ‘Ride a White Swan’ and ‘Twentieth Century Boy’. There’s also a strong sense here of what made Bolan unique: the gender-fluid sex symbol who was rooted in the ’70s, yet somehow years ahead of his time.
‘What I believed was that we were going to explore Marc Bolan as a songwriter who's never gotten his due,’ says legendary producer Hal Willner of the tribute record. As far as this feather-boa-shaking shindig goes, it’s mission accomplished.
Previewing for one night in UK cinemas Sep 14. On general release Sep 22.