Saturday, 1 October 2016

The Man Who Fell to Earth

Year of Release:  1976
Director:   Nicolas Roeg
Screenplay:  Paul Mayersberg, based on the novel The Man Who Fell to Earth by Walter Tevis
Starring:  David Bowie, Rip Torn, Candy Clark, Buck Henry, Bernie Casey
Running Time:  138 minutes
Genre:  science-fiction, satire

A mysterious man, Thomas Jerome Newton (Bowie), comes out of nowhere an sets up a hugely successful electronics conglomerate, World Enterprises, using revolutionary technology.  In reality, Newton is a humanoid alien in disguise, who plans to use the profits he earns through his company, which he has set up with patents on his advanced alien technology, and the inventions he has developed with it, to construct a huge spaceship to ship water back to his home planet which is dying due to severe drought.  Newton does indeed become fabulously wealthy, however he soon becomes corrupted by human vices such as alcohol, television, sex and money.

This fascinating film is a science-fiction movie like no other.  It's long, frustrating, fascinating, beguiling, pretentious, funny, dark and wonderful  by turns.  It also works as a satire on modern American life.  The imagery, which is heavy on symbolism, is largely taken from outside the science-fiction genre.  This was David Bowie's debut feature film and it is the role he was born to play.  With his quiet performance as the pale, emaciated alien everything about him is otherworldly, even before he reveals his true appearance (hairless, with yellow cat's-eyes and no genitals).  Candy Clark also impresses as sweet, lonely hotel maid Mary-Lou, who falls for Newton.  As with many Nicolas Roeg films, this is full of rich, striking often surreal images and a barrage of cinematic tricks, although it's a lot more linear than many of his other works of the period.  The several brief flashback scenes to Newton's homeworld are the most traditionally science-fiction elements of the film, and create the sense of a genuinely alien world with very few props and effects.
It is also a scathing satire on human weakness, corruption and cruelty, as the delicate alien embraces and becomes victimised by the darker side of human nature.  This is a film that would probably never get made now, it's too slow, too cerebral, too allegorical, too dark, too sexual and too obscure for modern day Hollywood science-fiction.

You may not enjoy this film, but you should certainly see it, at least once.

   David Bowie is The Man Who Fell to Earth

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