“I have no idea what that was about. Was it about alcoholism? Was it about corporate realities? Was it about sex? Was it about nothing?” –P.C. Clair
FEATURING: , Candy Clark, , Buck Henry, Bernie Casey
PLOT: In a desperate bid to mitigate a drought back on his home planet, a humanoid alien is sent to Earth: “The Planet of Water,” in his people’s language. Adopting the name Thomas Newton, he sets about establishing a technology company, World Enterprises, to fund his mission and design a vessel to allow his return. During his stay on Earth, the combined distractions of a young woman and alcohol (an even greater love) nearly break him, and he feels forced to hasten his decampment.
- The screenplay was based on Walter Tevis’ 1963 novel of the same name.
- The unfortunate mix of cocaine abuse and emotional detachment that overwhelmed Bowie during and after the filming meant that the actor/singer’s planned soundtrack for the film never came into fruition. John Phillips (of The Mamas and the Papas fame) was pulled in last minute to create the soundtrack before the premier.
- Candy Clark played both Newton’s lover, Mary-Lou, and his wife on his home world. In a small turn for a third “role”, she appeared as Thomas Newton himself during a brief scene — exiting the World Trade Center—when Bowie himself was unavailable.
- Wanting a “big name” for the lead, the movie’s backers were pushing for Robert Redford to play Newton. Fate–and budget restrictions—fortunately got in the way.
- The U.S. distributor cut about twenty to thirty minutes out of the film, making it more confusing than the (already challenging) director’s cut, and leading to some bad initial reviews.
- In 1987 the same story was adapted less successfully for a television movie starring the undistinguished Lewis Smith.
- In 2015, in one of his last creative works, Bowie co-wrote “Lazarus,” a musical based on The Man Who Fell to Earth; one theater critic wrote that “What they have created makes perilously little sense,” but “it’s nearly impossible not to be persuaded and baffled and at least a little thrilled.”
INDELIBLE IMAGE: In a David Bowie 1970s cult science-fiction movie directed by Nicolas Roeg, one expects to find a lot of shots that are “indelible.” However, the most memorable (and distressing) occurs when we find Thomas Newton in his media room. Beginning with a creepy stare and a rictus smile, he gazes at a bank of televisions all wired together to a remote on his viewing throne. His mania and desperation break through the audio-visual spasms pouring from the cathode ray screens as he begins shouting, “leave me alone!”
THREE WEIRD THINGS: Never enough televisions ; glitter-helmet assassins ; I see the past and it sees me
WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Without David Bowie’s presence, this movie would still make the “Certified” cut— but much less readily. The ambiguity of the narrative, boldness of the visual style, and abstruseness of the soundscape all work together to form a solidly weird experience. David Bowie acts, as it were, like the prodigious amount of frosting on this weird layer cake. Depending upon your view, Bowie was very good at acting like someone who’s an alien— or maybe didn’t need to “act” at all.
Original trailer for The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976)
COMMENTS: What would the people of Earth do with a space visitor? How would the traveler cope? When faced with an unrelenting Continue reading 276. THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH (1976)