Before David Bowie became a massive international rock icon, he logged his first movie role in Michael Armstrong's The Image, an obscure, black-and-white short horror film that has just been officially released for the first time online by the Wall Street Journal.

Directed by Michael Armstrong, who could go on to helm such cult horror movies as Mark of the Devil and House of the Long Shadows, the film stars then-unknown actor Michael Byrne as an artist whose painting of a young man seemingly comes to life. Bowie was just 20 years old when the film was released and is magnetic as the elegant ghoul who torments his creator.

“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,” Armstong told the Wall Street Journal, which was given permission to post the film in its entirety by the David Bowie Archive. The director described Bowie as "very pretty" and "flirtatious" and also credited him with doing a terrific Elvis Presley impersonation; he estimated the future legend made about "10 quid a day" on the London production. He added that the film, which was shut down prematurely, was plagued by difficulties; one scene, which required Bowie to stand out on a ledge in freezing weather, was particularly harrowing:

For the scene in question, Bowie was required to stand on a window ledge in freezing November weather, clinging to the crumbling sides of a window frame, while an assistant simulated rain with a hose. “What does he do?” Armstrong recalls of his bumbling assistant. “He points the hose at David and hit him square in the back with hose-pipe water. And he’s moving it around. So David is drenched.” Bowie remained on the window ledge, below which was a drop to the basement, for 20 to 30 minutes while the crew battled with camera jams and other issues.

“We’d actually said, ‘David, come in, come in, get warm,’ and he’d said, ‘No, no I’m fine.’ I think he was terrified of moving. By the time we got the shot, he came in and he was literally blue. He was bright blue. We had to strip him down and stand him in front of the lights to warm him up.” 

Judging the 14-minute film purely on its own merits, it's a surprisingly effective curiosity. Watch for the scene that pays homage (either advertently or inadvertently) to a shot from F.W. Murnau's 1922 classic Nosferatu.

(via Rolling Stone)

A former contributor to sites including MTV's The Backlot and Bloody-Disgusting, Chris Eggertsen worked in film development before indulging his love of pop culture writing full time. He specializes in horror, the intersection of social issues and entertainment and Howard Stern. He's on Twitter @HitFixChris.