A team of artists in The Mill’s New York studio recently joined forces with prolific photographer and director Mick Rock, with the task of a re-imagining David Bowie’s ‘Life on Mars’.
The iconic video, originally directed by Rock in 1973, left an everlasting mark on pop-culture. After all, who could forget the image of Ziggy Stardust in his dazzling turquoise Freddie Burretti suit, accompanied by bold and beautiful makeup by Pierre Laroche.
Presented by Bowie’s record label with the opportunity to re-edit the video for the release of the late musician’s new album, Rock jumped at the chance, enlisting the help of Mill editor Jessica Ledoux to re-cut the 46-year-old footage that had been sitting in Rock’s Staten Island attic.
This isn’t however The Mill’s first Mick Rock or Bowie collaboration. Back in 2011, The Mill’s New York team got their hands on the original dusty negatives for 'Life on Mars' and shaped a new vision for the track alongside Barney Clay for a live installation. Having been involved in the original re-imagining of 'Life on Mars' and well acquainted with Rock’s footage, including a vast collection of outs, The Mill’s team was ready to take on the challenge of breathing new life into the iconic piece.
Rock comments, “I didn’t have any blueprint. I sat down with Jessica and looked through all of the takes that she had at the same time as running the original and we just jumped in and got started.
Jessica was totally important to the process; we threw ideas about. If you’re going to work with someone it should be collaborative. Sometimes they would be my thoughts sometimes hers, and the same with our Colourist Damien. We threw it about between the three of us and it was completely collaborative. I don’t really work in an intellectual way; I always work intuitively. I have a basic scenario and then I follow my mood and riff off those around me, in this case Jessica.”
The edit was further enhanced by The Mill’s Beauty team, who meticulously removed flecks and imperfections from the original footage to create something slick and beautiful, before the film was polished by colourist Damien Van Der Cruyssen.
Familiar with Rock’s work and style from having worked on the Creator’s Project piece as well as grading Barney Clay’s documentary ‘Shot! The Psycho-Spiritual Mantra of Rock’, a film that takes viewers on a cinematic journey through Mick Rock’s rock ‘n’ roll history, Damien was well versed in Rock’s aesthetic. The pair bounced ideas off each other and worked to manipulate the original footage from colour to black and white. “It was a great pleasure to team with Mick again and continue polishing 'Life On Mars'.”
Says Van Der Cruyssen, “This was a really interesting challenge matching different film sources (color negative, color print and black and white work prints). Mick was really open to creative solutions in the face of our technical challenges, which led me to propose the use of fades to blend the color and black and white together, using the blue eye makeup as our main focus point. You’ll notice that the eyes always linger for a few more frames during the transitions.”
Rock adds, “I had the black and white segments, and when I came across that very last bit after the music stopped, I thought it was a little gift, so I made it into an epilogue. People like the original video, but I think this version takes it to another level. The scenes really add a new flavour for it. I’m really happy with it, and I’m interested to see what the fans make of it.”
Known predominantly for his work immortalizing rock gods and icons of popular culture, Mick Rock wasn’t always destined for the camera. He never studied photography, and in fact was a modern languages student at Cambridge University before picking up a camera and falling in love with the energy and connection thrown up by his photo’s subjects.
Rock tells us, “I had a friend who was a budding actor who I lived with for a little while after I’d left Cambridge. I was already photographing but I hadn’t developed a solid attitude at that time. There’s a book called ‘An Actor Prepares’ by Stanislavski he would read. He would bring the actors into a raw space and build a circle of energy. For a while the energy takes over and you get a lot of spontaneous energy.
"I go into a space and I just start working with. It’s a bit like being a cook, you’ve got to have the basic ingredients and then you keep stirring, and tasting, and mixing, and add a little bit of spice and then these great things start to happen. Maybe I’m just a cook at heart.
"I’m not a dictator director, I’m a bit of 'let’s have a bit of fucking fun director’. You don’t need a storyline; you just need an incredible performer beautifully presented.”
Energy and performance are at the core of Rock’s directorial style, and Life on Mars epitomizes this wonderfully. Bowie’s powerful and iconic performance is simple yet intrinsically beautiful and mesmerizing; a moment that will remain forever immortalized by Rock and lie within the boxes up in his attic.