Directed by Nicolas Roeg. 1976. UK.
At over two hours long and packed with bizarre and often confusing chop and change scenes, it's a film which only reveals its true brilliance over repeated viewings.
Seventies rock icon David Bowie plays Thomas Newton, an alien who has come to Earth in a bid to save his drought-ridden planet. Straight away he sets about accumulating a massive fortune in order to build a shuttle that will transport water back to his home. He ploughs the profits of his company World Enterprises into his secret project.
Initially, Newton is a recluse. He shuns human contact and is eager to make his millions so he hastily head off back to his planet.
But this changes when he meets Mary Lou (played by Candy Clark) who works at the hotel where he's hiding out. She's instantly captivated by his strange behaviour and they soon form a relationship. Mary Lou introduces Newton to alcohol and sex. His obsession with water is quickly swapped with booze and his life begins to spiral out of control.
Newton grows increasingly agitated about the nightmare unfolding around him. One night after a row with Mary Lou, he ditches his disguise and reveals his true identity to her. She is horrified at his alien appearance but tries to salvage what's left of their relationship. It doesn't work out and they drift apart.
Eventually the government unearths Newton's secret. They destroy the space project and throw him in a research facility where scientists run various tests on him. Much to Newton's horror, they permanently fix on his human disguise so that it his true identity will never be leaked to the public. Newton is left knowing that it's too late to save his family and that he will remain trapped on Earth forever.
It's a beautifully atmospheric film that was shot in the remote parts Mexico. The crew were predominantly British and felt alienated in their unfamiliar surroundings. This has translated onto camera to great effect. This is obvious in the way in which we see Newton's alien perception of ordinary everyday human events.
Roeg's style of mashing together snippets of random scenes in his movies is what makes the Man Who Fell To Earth oddly mesmerising and yet confusing at the same time. Metaphorical images are used throughout to explain the storyline- many of which were totally lost on me when I watched this the first time round.
One particular scene shows Newton and Mary Lou travelling through the Mexican desert. Peering out of the window, Newton is shocked to see a group of pilgrims. Their expressions reveal that they're equally baffled at the sight of the strange moving object speeding through the desert! Other sections of the storyline, such as the exact nature of Newton's space project, are never actually explained so we can only guess that he was working on a water transportation device.
As the story progresses, we see all the characters age while Newton retains his youthful appearance. This is the only indication that time has passed. Sometimes this happens in huge leaps making it hard to recognise the characters when they crop up again towards the end. This adds to the confusion when viewing first time round.
There has been a huge clash of opinion over whether Bowie's performance in The Man Who Fell to Earth is a result of an impressive acting ability or a handy stockpile of drugs. At the time of filming, Bowie's drug addiction had spiralled wildly out of control. Some argue that Newton's vacant and mysterious persona was actually just a result of a drugged-up Bowie playing himself. But there's no doubt that his already odd appearance and penchant for playing aliens throughout his music career meant that he perfectly fitted the role.
If you're the sort of
person who enjoys challenging and thought-provoking films then this is
definitely one to watch. For Bowie fans (like myself) it's a must watch
just to see the man in action.
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