Review: ‘The Man Who Fell to Earth’

David Bowie

Nicolas Roeg's first film since his striking "Don't Look Now" firmly establishes the British director as one of the most talented and imaginative new filmmakers in this part of the world. It's a demanding effort which will provide a challenge to salesmanship to ensure that it reaches its intended audience--and vice versa.

Nicolas Roeg’s first film since his striking “Don’t Look Now” firmly establishes the British director as one of the most talented and imaginative new filmmakers in this part of the world. It’s a demanding effort which will provide a challenge to salesmanship to ensure that it reaches its intended audience–and vice versa.

Though its cult future seems assured, its immediate chances will depend on audience reaction to its intriguingly offbeat appeal as a cerebral sci-fier, a sort of earthbound “Space Odyssey” with “Clockwork Orange” undertones–though it remains a very different film indeed. The David Bowie name should help with the youngsters, even if popster doesn’t “perform” but stays within the straight dramatic role. Lush music track also oozes teen appeal. The average filmgoer may, however, feel pic somewhat overlong, but pic is so intricately patterned as to make trimming difficult.

Though item is a meaty morsel for symbolic seekers, its basic plot has David Bowie descend to Earth from another (drought-ridden) planet to secure water supply for the folks at home. To help achieve this end, he soon uses his superior intelligence to accumulate vast earthbound wealth and power. Denouement finds him betrayed and condemned to life on Earth, his plans a failure.

As fragmented and visualized by the director and by scripter Paul Mayersberg, it’s a story that must be seen and not told, so rich is it in fascinating notions and thought-provoking subplots mirroring the ‘pure’ spaceman’s reaction to a corrupt environment. In fact, pic is perhaps too rich a morsel, too cluttered with themes, too demanding for the average aislesitter to assimilate all in one session, at least to full satisfaction.

Visually and aurally, it’s stunning stuff throughout, and Bowie’s choice as the ethereal visitor is inspired. Though no one should hazard a guess on his acting future from this outing alone his gauntly transsexual appearance is so right for the role that is will be difficult to disassociate him from it in the future. Candy Clark, as his naive but loving mate, confirms the winning ways that won her an Oscar nomination in “American Graffiti.” Her intimate scenes with Bowie, especially the introductory ones, are among pic’s highlights. Two other robust contributions come from Buck Henry as a high-powered businessman, and from Rip Torn as a disillusioned professor, but entire cast has been very carefully chosen for its choral effectiveness.

On the technical side, pic is a standout achievement for lenser Anthony Richmond, sound recordist Robin Gregory, editor Graeme Clifford and, among others, musical director John Phillips. Not forgetting upper case contributions by exec producer Si Litvinoff and Lion partner/producers Michael Deeley and Barry Spikings, who brought off no mean achievement in this ambitious British effort entirely lensed on U.S. locations.

Pic, which has considerable explicit (but soft) sex and nudity, is “X” rated for British consumers.


The Man Who Fell to Earth



British Lion. Director Nicolas Roeg; Producer Michael Deeley, Barry Spikings; Screenplay Paul Mayersberg; Camera Anthony Richmond; Editor Graeme Clifford; Music John Phillips (dir.); Art Director Brian Eatwell. Reviewed at Leicester Square Theatre, London, March 18, '76.


(Color) Widescreen. Available on VHS, DVD. Original review text from 1976. Running time: 140 MIN.


Thomas Jerome Newton - David Bowie Nathan Bryce - Rip Torn Mary-Lou - Candy Clark Oliver Farnsworth - Buck Henry Peters - Bernie Casey Professor Canutti - Jackson D. Kane Trevor - Rick Riccardo Arthur - Tony Mascia Elaine - Linda Hutton Jill - Hilary Holland Helen - Adrienne Larussa Jewelry Store Owner - Lilybell Crawford Receptionist - Richard Breeding Waiter - Albert Nelson Peter's Associate - Peter Prouse Capt. James Lovell - Himself Preacher & Congregation of Presbyterian Church, Artesia, N.M. - Themselves
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