By Diamond Victoria
Rating : Three out of Five “Diamonds”
David Bowie influenced almost every aspect of popular culture during his 47-year career. A fixture in fashion, music and film, he proved to be one of the most enduring and influential artists of the past century.
Known mainly for music, Bowie also convinced moviegoers in 1976 that he was not a one-trick pony.
“The Man Who Fell To Earth,” directed by Nicolas Roeg, proves Bowie would have probably gathered as wide a fan base for his acting alone as he eventually did for his music.
“The Man Who Fell to Earth,” I should warn, is 2 hours and 28 minutes long. But before you let that discourage you, let me tell you why this film has a cult following and is not only worth your time, but also a staple in 20th century cinema. Today, mainstream audiences probably wouldn’t relate to the film. But for those who appreciate deeper, more abstract cinema, it’s tops.
Bowie plays Thomas Jerome Newton, a humanoid alien who travels to Earth in search of water to save his drought-stricken planet. The film opens as his spaceship screams through the sky before crashing into a remote lake.
After several minutes of background music and artistic shots, we finally meet Newton. He is disoriented, with plenty of lens flare silhouetting his gaunt frame as he stumbles through a desert.
There is an abundance of wide shots that gradually zoom tighter onto the lead subject throughout the film, almost as if the director is trying to build up the idea that Newton is essentially alone among everyone else on Earth. The first 15 minutes is almost nothing but this kind of shot, with vast desert landscape easing into focus on a small, clumsy, new-to-Earth Newton in search of nutrients.
The plot builds slowly, and even once you start to realize what’s going on, it’s still hard to follow along. Roger Ebert, Pulitzer Prize-winning film critic, described it best in 2011: “The plot isn’t worthy of the performances.”
In fact, Ebert met Bowie and said he was rarely as impressed with someone’s poise as he was with Bowie’s. It’s obvious in the film – he embodies a sort of addictive and somewhat haunting aesthetic.
“The Man Who Fell to Earth” may be a sci-fi film, but at no point does it have or require over-the-top special effects. It succeeds with simple makeup, a modest wardrobe and a very convincing Bowie.
Newton never seems to age throughout the film compared to those around him, and his powerful jaw line, sharp cheek bones and sleek ginger-tinted hair make it hard to see anyone else in the shot.
The film takes place in what we can only assume is “real time” (1970s), because other than tell-tale signs such as bell-bottom jeans and women with iconic 1970s bleached blonde hair, the film never states a specific year or time.
Despite the riches he earns, Newton couldn’t predict the ferocity of doing business with humans. However, with arguably the most iconic line from the film, Newton shows his understanding: “We would’ve treated you the same had you come to our place.”
In flashbacks, we see his family in a vast, desert-like setting and living in what can best be described as an alien Winnebago. There’s obviously no overt attempt to make Bowie’s character seem alien to humans, though.
An interesting trait of the film is the first-person camera view when introducing new characters. We see this especially with Mary- Lou (Candy Clark), Newton’s distraction, lover or perhaps something else (their relationship is pretty ambiguous).
Another element of this film is its ability to steer clear of sci-fi clichés, such as cheesy special effects.
The ending comes full circle, with specifics from earlier in the story when Newton and Mary- Lou first met. It’s almost as though he has forgotten his family and is sinking into a moderately depressed and alcoholic state without any clear plans to make it back home.
Bowie put this film on the map. He won a Saturn Award, presented by the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Films, for best actor in 1977. And the film was nominated for best sci-fi film.
Bowie would go on to act in a number of films before his death this year, but none are more worthy of praise and applause than “The Man Who Fell to Earth.” After all, who else could better embody the role of an outcast alien than Ziggy Stardust