Cracked Actor is a 53-minute-long BBC television documentary film about the pop star David Bowie. It was filmed in 1974. At the time he was a cocaine addict and the documentary has become notorious for showing Bowie’s fragile mental state during this period. It was made by Alan Yentob for the BBC’s Omnibus documentary strand, and was first shown, on BBC2 in the United Kingdom, on 26 January 1975.
The documentary depicts Bowie on tour in Los Angeles, using a mixture of documentary sequences filmed in limousines and hotels, and concert footage. Most of the concert footage was taken from a show at the Los Angeles Universal Amphitheatre on 2 September 1974. There were also excerpts from D.A. Pennebaker’s concert film Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, which had been shot at London’s Hammersmith Odeon on 3 July 1973, as well as a few other performances from the tour.Cracked Actor is notable for being a source for footage of Bowie’s ambitious Diamond Dogs Tour.
The title of the documentary was originally to be The Collector, after a comment that Bowie had made to interviewer Russell Harty the previous year, whereby he described himself as “a collector of accents”. Yentob and his team were given the task of documenting Bowie’s famous Diamond Dogs tour, which was already underway when they started filming. Locations for the documentary mainly centred around Hollywood and Los Angeles, but there was also concert footage taken from Philadelphia. A number of performances from the tour were shown, including songs such as “Space Oddity”, “Cracked Actor”, “Sweet Thing/Candidate”, “Moonage Daydream”, “The Width of a Circle”, “Aladdin Sane”, “Time”, “Diamond Dogs” and “John, I’m Only Dancing (Again)”.
At present, the documentary remains officially unreleased though there are some bootleg video copies circulating as a result of the programme being shown again in the early 1990s by the BBC.
The tour and film coincided with a prolific time in Bowie’s recording and acting career. During the summer of 1974, Bowie started recording at Sigma Studios Philadelphia for what became the “Young Americans” LP. He was about to commence work on “The Man Who Fell To Earth” film – the film’s soundtrack was possibly due to be “Station To Station” but was later shelved. Many stills (photos) from Bowie in the US in 1974 on tour and recording, of which some sequences can be seen in Yentob’s “Cracked Actor” BBC documentary, have been extensively used for LP covers including “David Live”, “Station To Station” and “Low”, as well as inserts for the Rykodisk and anniversary booklets for the CD pressings of the LPs that include “Young Americans”.
Yentob has said that he will always be remembered for the Bowie documentary. Although he has made several other documentaries as well as being known for his “Imagine” arts series, it is the Bowie documentary that is always remembered above everything else.