11 September 2011

Ziggy Played Space Alien Jamming Good with Humans and the Bizarre From the Earth

I've been missing The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976) for 35 years. Until today. Somehow it got another brief theatrical release so I got to see it on the big screen. In a theater replete with pop corn munchers, talkers and chair kickers. Well.

Despite the film's presence on this planet for all these years I'd managed to accumulate virtually no knowledge about it. Except: David Bowie plays a bloke from another planet who walks the Earth in human form. Just a few days ago I read that he was an alcoholic alien. But of course.

So I went in fairly cold. And I write this without having poured through the plethora of reviews, critiques and comments that the film has engendered these past three and half decades. This then is my thinking on the just-viewed movie without influence from other voices.  Goodie.

Isn't it odd that we try to quantify the experience of watching a film? Give it a 7 out of 10 on IMDB. Three stars of five on Netflix. Tell a friend that a film was terrible or okay or good or a classic with the bare minimum of additional comment. A word, a number to sum up two hours of cinema. Still it can be and is done. But in the case of TMWFTE, I could no more assign it a number or phrase than I could the feeling of pulling a muscle during love making.

I really li-lo-ha-dis-?-!-@-#-hmm-ed the movie.

For one thing it jerks about like a spastic howler monkey. It is deep and profound and silly and trite and beautiful and amateurish and avant garde and hey there's a spider on the wall. I was bored at times and enthralled at others and I guess -- no, I know -- there's far worse things one can say about a movie.

The Man Who took to a tumble from another planet and landed on this one is a curious piece of 1970's cinema. It has some of the classic Seventies elements such as paranoia and you can't trust THE MAN. It is particularly odd as science fiction, being so liberal with science that it thumbs its nose at it. The fiction it's got down to a science, if you'll excuse me saying so.

The Seventies, you know, were the high water mark of American cinema. There was experimentation yes but it was remarkably restrained andsuccessful and trend setting. Experimental movies have a tendency to be unwatchable for those who aren't addicted to narcotics. TMWFTE is forever dipping its toe into experimental waters but never really takes the plunge. And at the same time it gets mawkish trumpeting the virtues of family in other solar systems, particularly in comparison with corporatized America and its decadent TV soaked culture.

There are, for that matter, some pretty strong sentiments expressed about TV. But I'll be damned if I could make heads or tails out of them.


The faller to Earth was played by David Bowie, a rock star among rock stars, a bit of casting that was inspired. I mean risky. That is to say catastrophic. He was as good a choice as any for a film that was saying ten things at once. That he did not go on to enjoy a critically acclaimed career as a thespian says everything and nothing about his performance, strange as it was, in TMWFTE. Yes he had other film roles but this was the rock star as alien. Beat that.

This is just one of the imponderables about movie that mixed in our alien's ability to see into the past seemingly for the hell of it. There was also stuff about elevators, gin, religion (I know, right?) and a horny prof.

You know I can't even tell if any of the sex or nudity was gratuitous, although I'm damn sure I could have done without seeing Rip Torn's pecker. Buck Henry was in the film too but remained fully clothed at all times. Candy Clark was quite naked. So let's see we had a cast that featured Rip, Buck and Candy.  Sounds like a porno movie.

I generally don't like doing plot summaries, you can always look it up on IMDb which I link to every film I mention. A plot summary of THWFTE would seem utterly ridiculous anyway. Alien trapped on Earth, starts a corporation that builds a space ship but....

Never mind.

The Man Who Fell to Earth is kind of like Blade Runner (1982) for tripped out hippies who've been listening the Dead all day. The Man Who Fell to Earth is is like ET (1982) replacing cutsie with Bowie, Drew Barrymore with a slattern and a John Williams score with what you hear while driving to Idaho. The Man Who Fell to Earth is like Shadows (1959) if John Cassevetes was an acid head.

It's as much about mood and feeling and reaction as it is about plot. More so even. It's as if Terrance Malick and Jackson Pollack co-directed a movie.

It may be an allegory about Jesus or it may be that director Nicholas Roeg just got drunk in the editing room and had at it.

I liked the film. What, you couldn't tell?

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