A critic once cruelly stated that if David Bowie could have tried to act his way out of a paper bag, he would have died of suffocation. Not that we want to disrespect the dead, but his cinematic legacy is not as solvent as his musical one and at times it is a little hit and miss whenever you come to any of Bowie's filmography, either in a repeat viewing or a first time, as we did with the film we're about to review.
Bowie was a true enigma whatever he did and at times his films were (and still are) both frustrating and satisfying in their content. The best of them, MERRY CHRISTMAS, MR. LAWRENCE (1983) and LABYRINTH (1986), were the right blend and well suited to what he was capable of. That said, I am sure there are fans out there who will doubtlessly bring up other films of his career to agree to disagree.
The Man Who Fell To Earth, Nicolas Roeg’s 1976 adaptation of a novel by Walter Tevis, has grown to become a cult classic amongst both sci-fi and Bowie fans. This new 4K restoration is a crisp and clear opportunity to sense the artistic and stylistic intent within.
Bowie plays an alien, Thomas Jerome Newton, who has come to Earth to replenish the depleted water stocks of his home planet. He has brought along advanced technology to patent many inventions and becomes a Bill Gates-like figure as part of a conglomerate, World Enterprises, aided by attorney Oliver Farnsworth (Buck Henry). He strikes up a relationship with a girl, Mary-Lou (Candy Clark) and begins to immerse himself amongst American culture, before his secret is revealed and a dark fate awaits him…..
Although The Man Who Fell To Earth remains one of the truly visual stimulants of the 1970s (and will certainly attract many fans old and new who are keen to discover and re-discover the legacy and power that Bowie had over the creative world and audience) it has become a rather bemusing and flat emotional experience which can be interpreted as a post-psychedelic analysis of disharmony, or a potent comment on the rise of Corporate America. I am not critical of any movie that does attempt to bring a new perspective and vision and perhaps a second or third viewing will reveal the essence and impact of Roeg’s film.
Part of the problem is Bowie himself, who stutters his way through the role and seems misplaced in it. Given his obsession thematically through songs like Space Oddity, Life on Mars and Starman, at first glance, he seemed to be the right choice, but what may be expressed perfectly well in a three-minute song doesn’t quite translate as well over 138 minutes in the cinema. Support-wise, Candy Clark, Rip Torn and Buck Henry are perfectly cast in their respective roles.
The key strength of the film, which is faultless, lies in its cinematography and contrast, capturing New Mexico in its sparse splendour.
THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH / CERT: 18 / DIRECTOR: NICHOLAS ROEG / SCREENPLAY: PAUL MAYERSBERG / STARRING: DAVID BOWIE, RIP TORN, CANDY CLARK, BUCK HENRY / RELEASE DATE: 24TH OCTOBER