Its week three in Studio Canal’s Made in Britain Season, and screening at cinema’s across Britain today is a genuine British cult classic, Nicholas Roeg’s, David Bowie starring The Man Who Fell to Earth. The film sees David Bowie as an alien being coming to earth to figure out a way to take water back to his home planet, which is dying from severe drought. Well that’s the theory of the story which is an adaptation of Walter Tevis novel of the same name.
Instead what we get with The Man Who Fell to Earth, is a pre-Lynch, self indulgent master stroke of surreal imagery, and the unique casting idea of a globally recognizable star, who had already dabbled with playing an intergalactic being, with the stage persona Ziggy Stardust. This must have been a deciding factor in Roeg’s casting of Bowie as his alien, Thomas Jerome Newton.
Nicholas Roeg was riding the crest of a wave somewhat with The Man Who Fell to Earth. His previous two pictures 1971’s Walkabout, and 1973’s Don’t Look Now, had both been critical hits, and in a time before blockbuster cinema, being critically successful, especially in the 70’s, afforded you an unprecedented amount of creative freedom. What Roeg crafts with that freedom is a film that is awash with contradictions, its both linear, in the fact that it has a backbone of a story, but unlinear, in the way it flits, without explanation of itself forward. Roeg isn’t going to connect the dots for you, he wants to ensure your paying enough attention to connect them yourself.
In the film we see Bowie’s alien Thomas Jerome Newton, start up a high end technology company, with the assistance of his lawyer Oliver Farnsworth (Buck Henry). The obvious mental advantages of his species over ours, allow him to amass a empire worth billions, back when billionaires were almost unheard of, and most certainly didn’t buy sports teams. Newton’s homesickness and inability to truly grasp what it means to be human, makes his interactions with the people closest to him ever more difficult. This leads to a strange relationship with a girl named Mary-Lou (Candy Clark) and a working friendship of sorts with Rip Torn’s Nathan Bryce, who is himself a complex character, with strange sexual habits.
The Man Who Fell to Earth is one of those films that simply has to be seen, its a bizarre collection, of increasingly beautiful, and ever more surreal scenes that seem to be heavily influenced by the various toxins that its stars were indulging in at the time. By his own admission Bowie was so heavily addicted to cocaine at the time, he can hardy remember even making the film, his spaced demeanor could be two parts natural talent and one part drug induced wonder. Adding to Bowie’s extra stimulus you’d need to factor into the production Rip Torn’s penchant for booze and drugs. Its a wonder Roeg ever actually got the film made, and how different it would have been had Peter O’Toole accepted the role of Newton when he was offered it, would the directors style have matched O’Toole’s as well as it seemed to Bowie’s, who knows?
I strongly advise you to catch The Man Who Fell to Earth either at one of the many screening across Britain today or, pick up the excellent Studio Canal Blu-ray.
The Man Who Fell to Earth is released as a reissue in cinemas http://www.independentcinemaoffice.org.uk/films/collectionplaydates.aspx?ID=5941&c=5941 19h of June 2012 & is available now on Blu-ray from Studio Canal RRP: £19.99 Best price found £8.99 http://www.play.com
Anyway peace out suckers!