#103 The Man Who Fell To Earth
(1976, Nicolas Roeg)
“You’re an alien!”
The Man Who Fell To Earth confirms what many already suspected. David Bowie is an alien. Also, that he seems to like being in really weird movies. Bowie plays a man named Thomas Jerome Newton, a very strange “British” man who’s arrived in America to discuss a business deal. As the movie progresses, we learn that Newton is actually a humanoid alien visiting Earth with a mission to save his home planet. Along the way, he becomes fascinated by our society and ends up hooked into its excesses and vices.
This is a really weird movie, as I stated. It seems to be part of a pattern of British movies from the late 60s and early 70s that just leave me feeling confused as to what the hell just happened. Director Nicolas Roeg has clearly wrapped his movie in myriad layers of meaning, but it could take an awful lot of re-watches to find exactly what the meaning is.
It’s really hard to tell if Roeg intended for Bowie’s alien status to be a big revelation or if he expected the audience to be clued in from the start, particularly since there are times when it seems like a mystery and other times where it’s blatantly obvious. Doesn’t help that all the marketing for the film is basically “DAVID BOWIE IS AN ALIEN” but then it feels like a lot of tension goes out of the movie if you know he’s an alien ahead of time. It’s confusing.
It also doesn’t help that the movie’s pretty vague in both its plot and its meaning. We get random shots to Bowie’s home planet, and bizarre sequences such as Bowie watching a samurai sword fight while a couple in another room have sex and take photos of each other. And speaking of sex, the movie revels in it, dropping in sex scenes for the sheer hell of it, and doesn’t shy away from showing full-frontal nudity, both male and female. At times I just wondered why.
There is plenty to praise about The Man Who Fell To Earth. The concept is very good, and Bowie’s acting is surprisingly good in an awkward alien kind of way. The movie does a great job of showing Newton’s growing addiction to alcohol and television, and the subsequent fall from grace he suffers. And the scene where Newton reveals his true identity to his girlfriend Mary Lou (Candy Clark) is incredibly effective.
It’s just a shame that sometimes the movie can feel a little pretentious. All the cuts to abstract imagery and naked swimming black men (no really) have a tendency to get in the way. I understand the cuts to Newton’s home planet, but they did feel rather arbitrary, often triggered by nothing in particular, and dumped in there just to go “oh yeah, Bowie’s an alien, remember”.
Much like if…. I genuinely don’t know how to feel about this movie. It’s very well made, and the concept is nice, but overall it feels so surreal it might require multiple viewings to make any real sense of it. Certainly an interesting take on the sci-fi genre, but not all that accessible.
Starring David Bowie, Rip Torn, Candy Clark & Buck Henry
Written by Walter Tevis (novel) & Paul Mayersberg
Produced by Michael Deeley & Barry Spikings
Music by John Phillips & Stomu Yamashta
Cinematography by Anthony B. Richmond
Edited by Graeme Clifford
Favourite Scene: I liked the reveal of Bowie’s true form, which was slightly creepy and genuinely suspenseful in the build-up to it.
Scene That Bugged Me: So, that sex scene mixed with samurai sword demonstration…can I get an explanation for that, please?
Watch it if: You’ve always suspected David Bowie might be an alien
Avoid it if: The sight of Bowie’s crotch in Labyrinth terrified you – it’s worse here, trust me