After writing in last week’s post about the plethora of repertory films screening at the Trylon Microcinema, it was nice to see another “rep” film show up on the Twin Cities film schedule from British director Nicholas Roeg: his The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976) will be getting its due for a week-long engagement starting this Friday at the Lagoon Cinema. What’s special about this re-release, besides a new print coming to town for its 35th anniversary screening? The film has been restored to its original cut of 140 minutes, instead of the 118 minutes that was shown in the U.S. when it opened in 1976.
Roeg is probably best known for 1971’s Walkabout, a slow-paced drama—featuring stunning cinematography by Roeg—about two children stranded in the Australian outback; and 1973’s psychological horror thriller Don’t Look Now, starring Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie as a couple grieving over the death of their daughter. It’s since been eclipsed in the horror genre, but it’s still powerful and has one of the more disturbing endings of any film I’ve ever seen.
The Man Who Fell to Earth is based on the 1963 novel by Walter Tevis, adapted by Paul Mayersberg—who wrote the little-seen Clive Owen film Croupier (1998). The highlight of the film is musician David Bowie’s dazzling film debut: Bowie was riding high with his music career, after the release of his 1976 album Station to Station. He made the album after he shot the film, transitioning from glam rock towards funk and soul sound; the album, re-released in 2010 with added material, featured one of Bowie’s biggest hits “Golden Years.”
In the film, Bowie plays an alien named Thomas Jerome Newton, who has come from the planet Anthea in search of water to help with a horrible drought. Coming from another planet, he has advanced knowledge of ideas and inventions and hopes to patent these concepts in order to make enough money and ship water back to Anthea. When “Tommy” meets Mary-Lou (an equally impressive Candy Clark) at a motel, the two being start a relationship, even though Newton is married, and he slowly becomes consumed by Earthly matters: alcohol, television, and human emotions. Even though he has now made a fortune through his patents, “Tommy” can’t help but think that he may never return back to Anthea, in order to save his planet and save his family as his life has started to crumble on Earth.
Bowie’s performance is startling; he’s always been a better than average actor onscreen throughout his career. Some of my favorites among his roles are: Pontius Pilate in The Last Temptation of Christ, Nikola Tesla in The Prestige, and Andy Warhol in Basquiat. The film features some solid supporting players, too: Buck Henry as a patent lawyer, Rip Torn playing a professor, and Clark as somewhat dimwit Mary Lou give enough weight to each role to make The Man Who Fell to Earth worthy of seeing. Roeg’s film is highly original and again features beautiful cinematography, even from its opening shot—this time shot by Anthony Richmond. The Man Who Fell to Earth may frustrate some viewers as its slow narrative takes its time establishing character and place; many scenes are broken up into almost short vignettes without much explanation and feel a bit out of place. Nevertheless, The Man Who Fell to Earth is eye-opening, mesmerizing, and even shocking from start to finish.
Photo courtesy Rialto Pictures