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  • Gareth Crook

The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976) - 7/10

Recently I listened to all Bowie’s studio albums back to back. It’s quite a ride, but left me still wanting more. So after listening to Black Star on repeat, I thought it might be time to revisit some films too. The Man Who Fell to Earth was first to mind. I’ve watched it only once before, as a teen and although I recall enjoying it, I’m not sure I took it all in. Thomas (David Bowie) is an alien that crash lands on earth. Conveniently looking like an earthing… well sort of. Bowie was perfect for this role wasn’t he, in the mid 70s he looked almost alien. Posing as a human, his aim is to save his dying planet whilst observing how screwed up ours is. We see the world as he does, weird and ruthless. Oh did I mention he’s landed in America? It’s an unusual story, you’d think he’d need something more tangible than money and he does, he needs water, but it’s money where we start and perhaps that’s why we’re in America, the land of opportunity. Armed with a book of mathematical theory for electronics to rival the main players in film and photography, he hires Oliver (Buck Henry) and registers some patents. See, unusual. Thomas has a plan. One that only he’s privy to, but basically it’s money for a spaceship and presumably a means to solve his water problem. He’s inventive. As is director Nicolas Roeg. There’s no hand holding, no exposition. Roeg keeps the viewer on their toes guessing where we’re headed next. Ironically Thomas doesn’t travel well, getting into some scrapes that introduce him to Mary-Lou (Candy Clark). Who helps him set up home in a hotel room packed with televisions for him to watch his growing wealth and consume the culture. Everything appears to be going to plan, until the complicated Nathan Bryce (Rip Torn) comes into the picture. It’s here that the unpenatrability slips, just a little. Though it tries to stay as unreadable as Bowie. He’s excellent, it’d be easy just to let his looks command his performance, but he drives this with a delicate confidence. Action packed it is not. It’s slow and mysterious, with perhaps more ideas than it can fully render, but it doesn’t lose its way. Thomas thought must remember where he is. Why he’s there. Losing himself in earths excesses. The Man Who Fell to Earth is an epic. One that tests its viewer, but rewards. Yes there’s that notorious bathroom scene, but it’s unremarkable really compared to the sublime cinematography throughout and as Tommy fashions himself as a proto tech mogul. Conquering in business and beyond, he finds that despite his efforts, he’s attracted the wrong sort of attention. It’s not a joyful film, it’s shrouded in sadness and I can certainly see how some would find it bleak, but it’s strangeness is it’s strength, along with Bowie and it’s worth watching for the beautiful framing alone.



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