The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976) Review


Directed by: Nicolas Roeg                                                                                                           Written by: Paul Mayersberg                                                                                                   Starring: David Bowie, Rip Torn, Candy Clark, Buck Henry, Bernie Casey

(Originally written for Youtube Jan 11. 2016)

So, I was planning today to announce that I’d be reviewing a movie every week, either a new picture, or just one I’ve never seen before; and I had one all lined up for this week…a comedy actually.

But then David Bowie died, and…I have to do something. David Bowie is one of my all-time favorite musicians. A man who defined cool for over 40 years. Someone always on the bleeding edge, someone who defined trends and shaped pop-culture. He’s undeniably one of the greats. A true to god legend and genius. I cried when I first heard the news, and I still feel like the air’s been knocked out of me. So instead I picked another movie I hadn’t yet seen.

Besides just being a musician, Bowie was also a noted actor; probably most famous for his role as Gareth in Jim Henson’s Labyrinth, but also had parts in The Prestige, Basquiat, The Last Temptation of Christ, and many more. But his first starring role was in a science fiction film, The Man Who Fell To Earth.

The Man Who Fell To Earth is trippy and hypnotic, meditative and emotional, it’s weird science fiction…it’s exactly the sort of movie you would expect Ziggy Stardust, the same guy that turned 1984 into Diamond Dogs to star in.

The film concerns Tommy Newton, an alien played by Bowie, who shows up on Earth with a mission to get back home. To do so he starts a technology company that eventually branches into space-travel, and along the way falls into some of humanity’s many vices: lust, gluttony, addiction, and apathy.

The highlight of the film really is David Bowie. He really is just perfect casting. Tall, gangly, pale, bright red hair, softly handsome face; it doesn’t matter what mood he’s playing: awkward, dispassionate, manic, fragile; he effortlessly stands out. He’s just so believably alien, basically no matter what he does, that he completely sells his outsider-ness. In spite of that, from when we first see him awkwardly stumble down the hill in the first scene, he is magnetic. Saying he demands attention isn’t accurate because would infer that he’s trying to get it. You really are just drawn to him, and want to watch everything he does so closely.

Besides Bowie, the movie, well, it’s ambitious, to put it gently. It’s over two hours long and has substantial plotting and pacing problems and lots of non-sequiturs that begin to imply things that are never really fleshed out and have no reason to be in the film; which is a common enough problem in films like this where the emotional conceits are more prominent than narrative ones, but a problem all the same. And Bowie might honestly be too magnetic, as scenes he’s aren’t in feel all the dimmer for his absence.

It’s long and plodding and sloppy, but at times also surprisingly poignant when it gives us the opportunity to see ourselves as Newton sees us, or when we recognize Newton falling into the same pitfalls that many of us are so prone to. You might have to force yourself to watch through The Man Who Fell to Earth in its entirety, but you’ll almost certainly be rewarded for your effort.

Next week, hopefully, I’ll get to review something a bit cheerier. In the meantime, if you have one, now is the perfect time to listen to your favorite Bowie song or album. If you’ve never really listened to him, I’d recommend starting with his Live Reality tour album, as it’s a good tour of most of his hits, or if you want a complete album story experience, try The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars. I also recommend reading Stranger from a Strange Land, if you’re looking for something to read. It’s one of my favorite books, and it always reminded be a lot of Ziggy Stardust. I don’t know.

Thank you for watching, and so long Starman.