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The Man Who Fell to Earth

Year: 1976
Production Co: British Lion Film Corporation
Director: Nicholas Roeg
Producer: Michael Deely
Writer: Paul Mayersberg
Cast: David Bowie, Rip Torn, Candy Clark, Bernie Casey

Being a film starring David Bowie, I didn't expect this to be anything like The Day the Earth Stood Still, The Arrival or any other they-walk-among-us alien movies. I certainly expected heavy Kubrickian symbolism, all epic-themes-through-everyday-occurrences, and I wasn't disappointed.

Or more accurately I was, with motivations, actions, scenes and entire acts (and there are more than three) seeming to have no bearing on common sense, relation to each other or relevance to the premise. Roeg and his editor appeared to have thrown everything they filmed into the final cut.

There is a story here if you stick with it to the end, but it's buried under so much allegory and nonsense it's hard to find. Bowie is an alien being who's left a dying planet to come to Earth. Why? In a Hollywood sci-fi thriller it would inform on his every action. In Roeg and the screenwriter's hands you're never sure, although it's got something to do with him investigation global warming or finding a water regeneration technology.

Using his superior knowledge the alien adopts a human name - Newton - and starts a technology company that quickly rises to the top of several fields and becomes an empire while he lives a Howard Hughes-like existence, all business done through his right hand man.

The real reason for building up a business fortune however is to build a spaceship to return home to his own world, a goal that seems forgotten in the insanity to follow as we also follow the story of a philandering professor (Torn) driven by the search for scientific integrity who gets far too much pussy from students to believe, bristles against the conservative powers that be at his college and will be Newton's chief scientist when the time comes.

Newton moves to the American Midwest and falls in love with a motel cleaner (Clark) in a relationship you can never quite believe, or at least with motivations that are never clear. Then during the final moments leading to his departure, he's taken prisoner and enslaved, though why and whether his captors realise he's an alien was never clear. There's something in there about what a corrupting influence life on Earth can be, and how the alien has gone from a family man to a bored, washed-up superstar alcoholic in the final scene, and it seems in part what Bowie wanted to say about himself at that period of his career.

There's a good story in here, but everything involved, from bizarre asides like Newton's obsessively watching multiple TVs and his antics in the asylum where he's kept to his Bowie-esque attire is a riddle wrapped in an enigma and very hard to stick with. In the hands of more commercial filmmakers it would have been a starkly different movie full of car chases and CGI spaceship landings, but at least it mostly would have made sense.

Neither Roeg, Bowie nor co-star Torn shy away from liberal displays of cock either, as if to assert that this is no sci-fi action adventure.

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