The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976) is based on the 1963 Walter Tevis novel of the same name. In this eccentric sci-fi drama Nicolas Roeg directs David Bowie as an alien in search of water for his dying planet and whilst on earth Tommy (Bowie) establishes a relationship with Mary-Lou (Candy Clark) a maid who is immediately entranced by Tommy’s aloof but simultaneously magnetic qualities. He further uses his home planet’s advanced technology to establish a multi-million pound corporation with the aid of patent lawyer Buck Henry (Oliver Farnsworth) and Dr Nathan Bryce (Rip Torn). Although the extraterrestrial reveal is left until the end of the second act, it’s clear there’s something not quite right about Tommy from the word go – possibly his penchant for drinking water in the 70s. Everyone else seemingly quenches their thirst with scotch or something stronger.
To say that this film is a little bit bizarre is a bit like saying that Michael Bay gets a little bit excited by big explosions. It is beautifully shot but there’s many an oddball moment clearly designed to disorient and confuse. Oliver Farnsworth wears lenses so thick that he himself looks alien, Bowie clearly thinks that red hair with blonde streaks is a good look and there’s lots of pasty, but violent, sex between him and Candy Clark. This is all interspersed with flashbacks to Tommy’s wife and children back on his own planet which seems to consist mainly of desert land, the drought is what brought Tommy to earth don’t forget, and the people appear to have been shrinkwrapped.
Like much of Roeg’s work there is an other worldliness to this film that is at the same time enthralling and bewildering but the real triumph here is the casting of Bowie. In frame, he is beautiful, delicate, vulnerable and bewitching. His transformation into alien form is still chilling to behold with his hairless cranium and lizard-like yellow eyes filling the screen. Special screenings of this film are available this evening and I truly recommend catching this exotic and often forgotten slice of seventies cinema.