The realm of science fiction is a fascinating one. A lone man’s wild-eyed pseudo-science for faster than light travel could easily be tomorrow’s answer to colonising new worlds. If you question my claim, look no further than Star Trek, which showed snippets of the trappings of modern life back in the sixties.
Of course, no matter how hard you try, not all predictions come true, and not all science fiction passes muster after time has moved on. Such seems to be the case with the 1976 cult classic The Man Who Fell to Earth.
The film was directed by Nicolas Roeg and starred the late, great, David Bowie in his debut film role of Thomas Jerome Newton as an alien who comes to Earth and becomes head of a company created in order to bring water back to his home planet. Starring alongside the singer are Candy Clark as his love interest, and Rip Torn as a scientist who ends up working with Newton on a number of his projects.
Bowie’s role within the film is a much more subdued character when compared to his ostentatious stage personas, or some of his characters in later films. Instead he plays Newton in a rather flat manner, rarely raising his voice above a quiet murmur except at a few choice moments. This wouldn’t necessarily cause any strife within the film, but the majority of his scenes coincide with Candy Clark’s lacklustre delivery of her lines, which, again, could have been greatly improved had her character been given any other emotion than “blindly in love with Newton.” It may be a relic from the time when the film was made, but watching her repeatedly throw herself at Bowie (a dream of many young women at the time, I’m sure), only for him to turn her away disinterestedly, becomes weary after the umpteenth time, and by the time there is a change in their relationship, you have become so numbed to the initial treatment, you feel like you accidentally changed the channel somewhere along the way.
Despite the acting, it is clear that a lot of passion was put into this project, especially by Roeg. The entire story is very lovingly shot, and uses a wide variety of camera techniques to help keep the audience on its toes. The use of imagery is also particularly strong, especially during the many, many sex scenes (so many, that one begins to suspect the film was running a little short and they needed a way to stretch the runtime.) Of particular note is the first carnal display, which cuts between the rather aggressive intercourse and a sword fight between two Japanese actors, the timing of the thrusts exquisitely matching the swordplay in an almost balletic fashion.
The Man Who Fell to Earth also features an absolutely stellar soundtrack, using plenty of instrumental numbers by John Phillips as well as hits by the likes of Roy Orbison, Bing Crosby and Louis Armstrong. It is this, combined with Roeg’s passion and the awe-inspiring cinematography by Anthony B. Richmond, which makes this film what it is.
The Man Who Fell to Earth is rightfully held up as both a cult classic and a shining example of its genre. Whilst the acting may leave much to be desired, it is definitely worth a look-in, if only to see the loving touch of a fantastically dedicated crew.
The Man Who Fell to Earth is out on DVD & Blu-Ray now