David Bowie's first big screen appearance in The Image, a short horror film that briefly screened between two porno films at a London theatre in 1967, has been unearthed. The David Bowie Archive had been in possession of the Michael Armstrong-directed film and gave the Wall Street Journal permission to share The Image nearly 50 years after it was produced.
In the 14-minute film, a young artist played by Michael Byrne is painting a portrait of a man who looks like Bowie when Bowie himself appears as the physical manifestation of the man on the canvas. Byrne's artist continually kills the apparition – by hitting him in the head with a statuette, choking him, stabbing him – but Bowie keeps coming back to haunt his creator.
Armstrong spoke to the Wall Street Journal about the film and said he cast the then-20-year-old Bowie because he was a fan of the singer's pre-Space Oddity recordings for Deram Records. Bowie was paid "around 10 quid a day" for the part.
"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," Armstrong said of The Image. The film was supposed be 30 minutes long but only 7 minutes of footage was shot, forcing Armstrong to nearly double its length in the editing room.
Bowie himself stopped by London's Jacey Theatres when the film screened in 1967 and reported back to Armstrong how the short horror film confused moviegoers expecting to see porn. "He thought it was hilarious," Armstrong said.