Criterion Sunday 304: The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976)

I guess I really want to love Nic Roeg’s films more than I do (not that I’m about to start a list of ‘overrated filmmakers that I dislike and you should too’ because that kind of thing is corrosive to cinephilia), but I just really cannot seem to connect with them fully; I liked Bad Timing and Walkabout and Don’t Look Now, but in an admiring sense more than loving them. Indeed a lot of passionate words have been penned about this particular film and perhaps that’s down to the star being David Bowie (who passed away a few years ago), but I imagine it’s just that Roeg’s vision of the world gels with a lot of people more than it does me. The Man Who Fell to Earth is surreal and it’s frantic at times, thanks to Roeg’s customary vivid editing. It sustains a sort of weird prelapsarian spirit both in its central character — there’s something about the gaunt, alabaster Bowie gliding through all his scenes which suggests innocence, though all accounts indicate this is likely because he was deep into a narcotics addiction — and its setting, an American landscape soundtracked in an almost rustic way, but combined with guns and alcohol and corruption and copious sex (sometimes quite roughly physical sex, but never particularly exploitative). It’s about an alien called Thomas (Bowie) who is looking to transfer resources from Earth back to his desert-like home planet but who falls into a lifestyle that seems to prevent his making progress, and maybe that would be a spoiler but the film seems genuinely more interested in the rhythms of his life; the ending, when it comes, just sort of happens, but then suddenly you realise that the title isn’t just because of his alien origins, it’s because of his inability to achieve his dreams, despite every resource available to him. It’s a cautionary tale, after a fashion. I admired it, but I did not love it.


FILM REVIEW: Criterion Collection
Director Nicolas Roeg; Writer Paul Mayersberg (based on the novel by Walter Tevis); Cinematographer Anthony B. Richmond; Starring David Bowie, Rip Torn, Buck Henry, Candy Clark; Length 138 minutes.

Seen at home (DVD), London, Sunday 29 March 2020.

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