This late-70s sci-fi hit is infused with the mythology of its star, David Bowie, and the off-kilter worldview and ‘anything goes’ attitude of director Nicolas Roeg. Perhaps it’s this potent combo that establishes The Man Who Fell To Earth as a cult movie, regarded fondly by many.
Roeg is known for not storyboarding his movies – “God laughs at people who make plans” – and at over two hours, the meandering story reflects this carefree attitude. Bowie is perfectly cast as billionaire Thomas J Newton, a ‘visitor’ who aims to develop tech to transfer Earth’s water to his drought-stricken home planet.
With his wife and kids’ lives depending on him, he’s driven to succeed, despite drawing the attention of the press, jealous business rivals and a lovesick chambermaid with a gin habit.
If you’re looking for a gripping narrative then look elsewhere; enjoy the B-movie effects and crash zooms, melodramatic acting, eclectic soundtrack, Hockney-esque visuals and Bowie’s effortless charisma instead. Notice also the self-aware moments and in-jokes about Bowie’s looks, fame and talent – the singing in church scene is a lovely one.
The metaphors are obvious and heavy-handed, but what could be more entertaining than seeing a (literally) spaced-out Bowie in a skin-tight alien suit getting into a spaceship that looks like a Madeira cake on wheels?
Roeg’s influences here range from The Third Man to his ex-colleague Roger Corman, and even Stanley Kubrick, but look closer and you’ll see that The Man Who Fell To Earth has in turn influenced others, not least Ridley Scott’s vision for Roy Batty.
Because there’s so much to love, we should be able to forgive its flabby, ridiculous moments and simply enjoy gazing at a star man – the “phenomenon of our time”, as the trailer dubs Bowie – and be thankful that his unused work for the score eventually became Station To Station.