David Bowie’s long and illustrious film career began at a seedy cinema in London’s Piccadilly Circus, where his first film was screened between two sex films in 1967. The 14-minute short horror film, entitled The Image, is considered quite rare, thanks in part to director Michael Armstrong’s ongoing efforts to keep it off YouTube. However, the David Bowie Archive recently granted The Wall Street Journal permission to publish the film, and it can now be viewed below.
In the film, a 20-year-old Bowie appears alongside co-star Michael Byrne. Byrne plays a young artist whose portrait comes to life, while Bowie plays the haunting physical manifestation of the painting. It’s a creative arthouse take on the ghost story — and a violent one at that.
“It got an X-certificate. I think it was the first short that got an X-certificate. For its violence, which in itself was extraordinary,” said Armstrong, 72. Speaking to the WSJ, the director described the young Bowie as “very pretty” and “flirtatious,” though he admitted that he didn’t hire Bowie for his looks or his talent. “[It wasn’t] Oh, he’s perfect for the role. It was really to give him a job.” The pay — “probably around 10 quid a day” — indicates just how hard-up Bowie was prior to his breakout with “Space Oddity”, which came two years later in 1969.
The Image ran at the Jacey Cinema for several weeks in 1967, and Armstrong recalls Bowie calling him once from the venue to report that the other patrons, who had come for the porn, were thoroughly confused. “He thought it was hilarious,” the director remembers.
Watch the full film below.