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The Man Who Fell To Earth

The Man Who Fell To Earth

By Patrick Samuel • May 8th, 2013
Static Mass Rating: 4/5
British Lion Films / StudioCanal

Original release: March 18th, 1976
Re-release (UK): June 15th, 2012
Running time: 139 minutes

Director: Nicolas Roeg
Writers: Paul Mayersberg, Walter Tevis (novel)

Cast: David Bowie, Rip Torn, Candy Clark

The Man Who Fell To Earth

For the best part of my childhood I always assumed there was something otherworldly about David Bowie. As the Goblin King in Labyrinth (1986), his androgyny fascinated me, I just couldn’t tell either way what this being was. It terrified my parents and they tried to outlaw anything Bowie-related in case it might influence me in being some way “different”.

Despite this ban, it was impossible to filter out MTV completely and fragments of Space Oddity, Ashes To Ashes, and Ziggy Stardust petered through, only serving to solidify the idea Bowie couldn’t be from here, but somewhere far, far away.

After seeing The Man Who Fell To Earth, I was not only awestruck, but even more convinced than ever before by this idea.

Music artists who cross over into film tend to play extensions of themselves. It’s evident with Elvis Presley in Jailhouse Rock (1957) and then in the 80’s with Prince in Purple Rain (1984), Madonna in Desperately Susan (1985) and Michael Jackson in Moonwalker (1988).

However, in The Man Who Fell To Earth, rather than Bowie’s character catering to the idea of how fame, power and wealth feeds a larger-than-life persona, we see how it ultimately destroys it.

Based on the 1963 novel of the same name by Walter Tevis, it tells the story of an alien (David Bowie) who arrives on Earth in search of water to take back to his home planet Anthea,. He gives himself the name Thomas Jerome Newton, and armed with knowledge of his planet’s advanced technology, he sets about making a fortune for himself to fund the building of his ship, with the help of a patent attorney.
The Man Who Fell To Earth

Along the way, Thomas meets hotel worker Mary-Lou (Candy Clark) who introduces him to things on Earth he probably would never have encountered without her; church, alcohol, sex, television and music. He begins to lose interest in his mission to save his drought ridden planet, and by the time the government get their hands on him, he’s become as jaded as the humans around him.

The Man Who Fell To Earth, although it’s sparse on special effects for a science fiction film, is a story as epic as 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) in that they’re both timeless, poetic and haunting pieces which reflect on the paradoxical nature of being human.

It’s also a film which plays heavily with imagery, themes and subtexts. Thomas, fresh from his arrival on Earth, is fascinated and then tormented by anything to do with liquids; the lake, alcohol, bodily fluids, even the moment he throws up in his hotel room after passing out from a ride in an elevator…The Man Who Fell To EarthThomas is a “fish out of water” in every way possible. Even the suit he wears on Anthea is partly made out of liquid on the outside.

In one of the film’s many poignant scenes, Thomas observes the value of television and comments:

“The strange thing about television is that it doesn’t tell you everything. It shows you everything about life for nothing, but the true mysteries remain. Perhaps it’s in the nature of television. Just waves in space.”

Despite it feeling rather slow in places, Bowie’s enigmatic presence and out-of-this-world persona add much to his performance as he looks at the world with his alien eyes, not understanding what he sees. Thomas, although starting off with great ambition, gradually falls from grace and becomes a terrible failure, sucked in by the monotony of television and drowning his sorrows in the readily available liquids on offer.

It’s a fascinating film, but one which also requires patience and after-thought, especially as it reflects on how we might be perceived as a species by someone who’s not quite from around here.

Patrick Samuel

Patrick Samuel

The founder of Static Mass Emporium and one of its Editors in Chief is an emerging artist with a philosophy degree, working primarily with pastels and graphite pencils, but he also enjoys experimenting with water colours, acrylics, glass and oil paints.

Being on the autistic spectrum with Asperger’s Syndrome, he is stimulated by bold, contrasting colours, intricate details, multiple textures, and varying shades of light and dark. Patrick's work extends to sound and video, and when not drawing or painting, he can be found working on projects he shares online with his followers.

Patrick returned to drawing and painting after a prolonged break in December 2016 as part of his daily art therapy, and is now making the transition to being a full-time artist. As a spokesperson for autism awareness, he also gives talks and presentations on the benefits of creative therapy.

Static Mass is where he lives his passion for film and writing about it. A fan of film classics, documentaries and science fiction, Patrick prefers films with an impeccable way of storytelling that reflect on the human condition.

Patrick Samuel ¦ Asperger Artist

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