Revolutionary Song

Revolutionary Song.

Bowie’s movie career had started with his best film, so it had nowhere to go but down. His second feature, Just a Gigolo (the official title was the German: Schöner Gigolo, Armer Gigolo), was the sort of wrack left at the ebb of an era, one of those bloated ’60s and ’70s film extravaganzas that sunk a small fortune on locations and sets and bribed as many aging stars as possible to fill the cast list. These films were like James Bond movies without the gadgets or the wit. In this case, Gigolo was meant to be the grand return of German film, boasting the largest budget ($19 million, inflation-adjusted) since the war.

You’d expect an aging Hollywood director or a rising vulgarian like Dino de Laurentiis to be behind something like Gigolo, but the film was the vanity project of the British actor David Hemmings (best known for Blowup). He wooed Bowie for the lead role by noting that Gigolo would be shot in Berlin, making it convenient for Bowie, and by assembling a collection of legendary actresses for him to play against, including Kim Novak and (the clincher for Bowie) Marlene Dietrich. But the reclusive Dietrich refused to come to Berlin, so Bowie’s scene with her was shot in two parts—Dietrich alone on a Paris soundstage, Bowie acting “to a chair” in Berlin, as he recalled.

Gigolo was a disaster upon release, getting vicious reviews and poor box office, with Hemmings repeatedly re-cutting the film in a bid to salvage it until it was taken away from him and dumped into theaters in a butchered, barely-coherent cut. Worth a viewing (most of it’s in fragments on Youtube) if you’ve some time, as Bowie is like Jayne Mansfield in The Girl Can’t Help It—the beautiful, oblivious object of desire for the rest of the cast. He also hasn’t shaken the image of being an extraterrestrial in disguise, which gives the film a slight SF quality; it’s as if an alien had posed as a gigolo in Weimar Berlin.

As Hemmings had a rock star in his film, he naturally wanted something on the soundtrack from him. Bowie’s effort was the paltriest thing he recorded in the ’70s: “Revolutionary Song,” a Brecht/Weill pastiche co-written with Jack Fishman. I think Nicholas Pegg’s speculation is correct that Fishman essentially tarted up a doodle that Bowie played during filming. Bowie’s sole contribution was the “la-la-la-la-la-la-la-LA-la-la” vocal melody, which sounds as if they taped it while Bowie was singing in the shower.

Recorded ca. February-March 1978 (Bowie’s vocal?) and likely finished later in 1978; released on the Just a Gigolo soundtrack in June 1979 (the track was credited to “The Rebels”), and as a single in Japan. A justifiable obscurity, “Revolutionary Song” never has been released on CD or digitally. The Gigolo soundtrack features Marlene Dietrich, the Village People, David Bowie and a Scott Joplin rag: it sadly missed the cut to be included on Voyager 2 as an example of the glorious mess that is human civilization.

Top: Just a Gigolo cast searching for direction, ca. January-February 1978.

11 Responses to Revolutionary Song

  1. ian says:

    Hey, wow, I’ve never heard this one. And in about five minutes, I’ll forget I listened to it at all. Sha-bamp-a-da-bwowwrr.

  2. giospurs says:

    Wow, this really is an obscurity. I love reading about and hearing these things but what a worthless song!

  3. Jeremy Earl says:

    It certainly is an obscurity, so much so that I’ve never even thought to look for it on You tube. As a seasoned Bowie fan there is very little I haven’t heard so this was fascinating but very dreary! Never seen Just a Gigolo either and so I watched a bit. Lots of wood in action….

  4. Gnomemansland says:

    Bowie and Jagger only had one good acting role in them and in both cases Roeg managed to somehow extract that (in the Man Who Fell to Earth and Performance) – all the other Bowie films are really pants (and Ned Kelly is pretty dire as well).

  5. Joe the Lion says:

    Gnomemansland, I believe you’re forgetting Labyrinth, which is quite obviously genius!

    Actually thought Bowie was pretty good in The Prestige and Merry Christmas, Mister Lawrence too. But I couldn’t bring myself to watch more than 10 minutes of Just a Gigolo.

    • Jeremy Earl says:

      Yeah I thought he was great in the Prestige. Labyrinth ended up up being a smart move for him as I’ve met many younger Bowie fans who became fans after seeing that movie. My girlfriend has said that seeing Bowie’s crotch bulge in the movie was her first sexual experience.

  6. diamond dog says:

    Gigalo I’ve never seen possibly due to not wanting to waste money on something even Bowie derided. I did get the album in a bargain vinyl store mainly because of this track but after some excitement at finding it the reality was something which sounded like it belonged in fiddler on the roof …awful I’m glad I paid 50 pence if only for a nice cover. I’ve still not seen the movie and not sure I ever will.

  7. Maj says:

    I have seen Just A Gigolo just recently and have to say I was really pissed off at the critics who hated it back then & at Bowie himself who described it as all of his Elvis films in one. I actually REALLY liked the film – and Bowie’s acting in it – tho I’m not sure it would be everybody’s cuppa. The way I saw it it’s a pretty good tragicomedy. Basically, every Bowie fan should give it a try. It’s definitely hot a horrible film.
    As for the song…well I think he’s recorded/wrote worse things than this but I have a soft spot for this sort of Weill-ian melodies. It’s not particularly bad or good…it quite fits in the film but it didn’t need to be there either.

  8. postpunkmonk says:

    Hmmmm. That photo of Bowie in profile really resembles… Robert Palmer doesn’t it?

  9. I agree with Maj. I watched it last night with my wife and we both agreed that it is an interesting film, perhaps not as symbolically complex as The Man who Fell…, but that does not make it worthless. As a period film, it is quite good in that it chronicles the aesthetic and political tensions of Weimar Germany, a moment when things could go either way in that country. And there is an interesting circle in the film, that, as my wife observed, starts with Bowie being mistaken for a Frenchman in the hospital, and ends with Bowie being deliberately miscast as a Nazi in his funeral.

  10. fantailfan says:

    “Revolutionary Song” is now available digitally, on iTunes. The preview left me unmoved.

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