Release Date: March 18th, 1976 (London premiere)
Directed by: Nicolas Roeg
Written by: Paul Mayersberg
Based on: The Man Who Fell to Earth by Walter Tevis
Music by: John Phillips, Stomu Yamashta
Cast: David Bowie, Rip Torn, Candy Clark, Buck Henry, Bernie Casey
British Lion Films, 138 Minutes, 119 Minutes (cut version)
“Well I’m not a scientist. But I know all things begin and end in eternity.” – Thomas Jerome Newton
David Bowie is in the upper echelon of artists I have loved and followed my entire life. I first discovered him, as a kid, when I was creeped out a bit by his music video for “Look Back In Anger” and enchanted by his video for “Ashes to Ashes”. I was really young, mind you, and this was all experienced when MTV was just sort of becoming a thing. I also grew up seeing him in Labyrinth and in other places, all while enjoying his tunes in the ’80s.
I never went back in time to check out The Man Who Fell to Earth until I was quite older. Actually, I first saw it in my early twenties, playing on television sets at a pretty intense party where the events and visuals in the film weren’t too dissimilar from the party itself.
I’ve since seen it sober and with my full attention, free of distraction.
The Man Who Fell to Earth is a real work of art. It’s not an incredible film when you look at the sum of all its parts but there are aspects of it that are exceptional, unique and inspirational. It has gone on to influence other motion pictures since it’s release and Bowie fans still adore it generations later.
The film follows an alien named Thomas Jerome Newton. He goes to Earth in search of water, as his home world is suffering from an apocalyptic level drought. He teams up with a patent attorney and invents a lot of things, advancing the technology on Earth and making himself rich. His ultimate goal is to have the money and ability to transport water back to his home. Sadly, Newton becomes distracted and corrupted by sex, alcohol, materialism and all aspects of the physical human world on Earth. Ultimately, Newton loses his way.
While the film is a bit long and feels very drawn out, it sometimes moves at a pace that is too fast. It is sort of disorienting, at times, when you go from one scene to the next and its obvious that a large portion of time has passed due to the effects of age being apparent on the characters that aren’t Newton. But there was a lot of ground to cover and I haven’t read the book, so I’m not sure how it compares to it. I’d assume that a lot had to be left out because the time jumps leave you feeling like you missed something important.
For this being David Bowie’s first big acting role, he did a fantastic job. Granted, this is a role that seems tailor made for him, especially at this point in his career. He loved singing about space and aliens and now he got to take over the screen as an odd yet intriguing extraterrestrial.
Bowie is surrounded by a pretty good cast that features Candy Clark, Rip Torn, Buck Henry and Bernie Casey. The chemistry between Bowie and Clark is good and Clark is really sweet in the first half of the film. That is, until things go sour for the romantic relationship due to Newton being driven a bit mad by the vices that control him.
The film is trippy and surreal. The alien planet scenes are enticing and charming. Also, whenever alcohol makes Newton have visions, we get to go on bizarre rides through time, space and imagination.
The Man Who Fell to Earth is an underrated gem that almost seduces you from its opening moments and continues to lure you in at every turn. While it isn’t very well known today, I don’t think that it is a film that will ever be truly lost to time because of David Bowie’s presence in it. Bowie transcends music, movies and pop culture and even in death, he will always attract new fans and many of them will most likely have the urge to experience this strange and unique film.
Pairs well with: The Man Who Fell to Earth TV movie from the ’80s. Also, for Bowie fans, this flows well with The Hunger.