The rock doc “Beside Bowie: The Mick Ronson Story,” directed by veteran rock ’n’ roll chronicler Jon Brewer, asks who was Ziggy Stardust without the Spiders From Mars? The answer the film arrives at is: probably no one without Ronson, David Bowie’s lead guitarist in the early 1970s.
A humble gardener from Hull, Ronson was the sonic muscle behind Bowie’s theatrics, and later a producer and arranger for other artists. The film centers on the argument that Ronson, who died of liver cancer in 1993, deserved far more credit than he received for shaping Bowie’s sound through arrangements and production.
Ronson was treated and paid as a gigging musician on Bowie’s first tours and early albums, but those interviewed, including wife Suzi and Bowie ex-wife, Angie, vehemently assert that Ronson was just as much responsible for the genius of those records.
Recordings of Bowie speaking about Ronson are used as narration throughout, but his warm praise doesn’t quite mesh with the descriptions of the professional fallouts and Ronson’s financial struggles late in life. Former Bowie manager Tony Defries becomes the scapegoat for this villainy.
“Beside Bowie” could use more structural rigor in the edit, but it’s an illuminating film about a man who deserved more shine. Getting to know Mick Ronson, you’ll never again hear “Life on Mars,” Lou Reed’s “Perfect Day” or even John Mellencamp’s “Jack & Diane” without thinking of him.
‘Beside Bowie: The Mick Ronson Story’
Running time: 1 hour, 43 minutes
Playing: Laemmle Music Hall, Beverly Hills