The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976)
Starring: David Bowie, Candy Clark, Rip Torn, Buck Henry, Bernie Casey
Directed by: Nicholas Roeg (Walkabout, Don’t Look Now, The Witches)
Synopsis: Alien crash lands on Earth to find a way to transport water back to his dying planet. Gets caught up in business, sex and booze delaying his return.
- I’m still reeling from the sudden death of Mr. Bowie so forgive another post regarding his earlier works. I actually watched this for the first time on his birthday last Friday in the hope that I would post about this sci-fi classic but I found it too hard to critique without giving my brain a rest and to absorb it a while.
- David Bowie is fantastic in his acting debut. The man was a living legend and capable of doing anything so it’s no surprise that even while coked up most of the time while filming he did a bang-up job. He’s pale, thin and lanky so playing an alien is a perfect role for him. He really seemed to delve deep into the role as well playing an isolated and highly intelligent alien and I’m sure it wasn’t a stretch for Bowie’s fame and fortune and fandom to help him play this character.
- Candy Clark also does a decent job as a lonely and simple girl from New Mexico who falls in love with Bowie’s character, Thomas Newton. I’ve only ever seen Clark in George Lucas’ American Graffiti so it was nice to see that he can hold her own along with Bowie.
- The look and style of the film I was surprised at. For a mid-70s movie there were scenes and effects that looked ahead of its time in a way. It was more or less an artsy-fartsy science fiction picture and the plot was pretty vacant however, sometimes the visuals made up for it. If you watch this movie on mute with maybe just Bowie’s music playing for 2-hours, then this would be the tits.
What doesn’t work:
- Make no mistake though, this is not a great movie. Sadly, it’s a mess of ideas and tries to be heavy on the symbolism that granted, if I was 19 years old in college, I would love this flick. Instead I watched Blade Runner one too many times in college and now I love that movie despite it being a controversially beloved classic. But like Blade Runner, The Man Who Fell to Earth is great with the visuals and style but holds very little water with story and plot. Seriously, The Man Who Fell to Earth is a plotless plodding mess. There are scenes that do nothing but waste time and characters that I still have no clue what their purpose is. Bernie Casey is in the film and maybe I wasn’t paying enough attention but I still don’t really know what he was supposed to be doing or why. In fact, the film forgets about him and we never see him again after the middle of the movie. I’d like to think I wasn’t paying attention but the film is so disjointed and lacking cohesion especially with time that it’s very easy to lose one’s focus. But from what I’ve read of the film, was that it was made to be loose and fluid in its presentation on purpose so kudos for them making a very poetic and artistic expressionist type of film—I suppose. Maybe going into the movie with knowing that maybe it would be a better viewing experience. On the surface the plot is very basic—he lands on Earth, makes a fortune with patenting his typical (but extraordinary to us) alien inventions, falls in love and also becomes a booze-hound, makes a rocket that will take him back home with tons of water but is then taken prisoner by the government(?) and is tested on for a long time until they just set him free. It ends with him still a drunk and alone. So as long as you can understand those simple plot points then you can basically watch the movie but there’s so much filler and odd scenes, like I said that make very little sense, that it can drag and frustrate the common audience member.
- The music. How on Earth can they make a movie about an alien PLAYED by David Bowie and not have him make the soundtrack?! For Crom’s sake he wrote half a dozen songs for Labyrinth and that was a kids flick! This is probably the biggest sin this film can commit. And its not like the soundtrack was just lacking Bowie, it was terrible anyway. If there was a decent soundtrack I can maybe get over it. Somehow, there was some legal issue’s with Bowie doing the soundtrack so there’s some excuse at least but fuck, this was a major let-down. Like I said, someone should take the instrumentals from his Berlin Trilogy with Brian Eno and rescore the film. And of course put, “Moonage Daydream,” “Starman,” “Life on Mars?” and any other great classic Bowie song that feels appropriate to this film’s story. If this movie had a memorable and great soundtrack then it would be a lot better in my opinion.
Overall: I think this movie needs repeat viewings for sure. The problem is, it’s too hard and not enticing to want to do that. It’s considered a cult classic and having a star like David Bowie, it’s easy to see why. I’m a huge fan of the Thin White Duke but even I can wait to revisit this “classic” again. It’s a shame too because it has a ton of potential especially in it’s simple science fiction story. A lot of movies has dealt with alien’s coming to Earth for help since and has done it much much better. If you like a decently made artsy-fartsy science fiction flick and won’t mind the long run time or the male frontal nudity (yes you see David’s little Bowie as well as Rip Torn’s) then this film may be worth a shot. If I’m being honest, I won’t really bash this film but I kinda appreciate what it was attempting to do and that was make a very artistic picture with a simple story and great visuals. I don’t regret checking it out and wish I saw when I was younger.
Score: 6 Assaults on Freshly Baked Cookies by Bowie (out of 10)