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Man Who Fell To Earth, The (1976)


Less about being an alien than you'd think.
Less about being an alien than you'd think.

Genre: Drama Sci-Fi

Starring: David Bowie (The HungerLabyrinth), Rip Torn (Men in Black"The Larry Sanders Show")

Directed By: Nicolas Roeg (Don't Look NowWalkabout)

Overview: An alien lands on Earth in hopes of saving his dying planet.

The Man Who Fell to Earth is billed as Science Fiction, and of course it is – being about an alien, who, as you may have guessed, falls to Earth. It is however more a Drama, being about relationships, and an exploration of the human - and alien – condition. Though not a Mystery in the classic Whodunit sense, The Man Who Fell to Earth is very mysterious, bombarding us with questions as hard and fast as our protagonist splashing down on our planet. The first half of the film is spent in a wonderfully patient answering of these questions and of the mysterious mission of Thomas Jerome Newton, played by David Bowie in his first starring cinematic role, and he’s a natural.
An interesting obsession with water.

We open with a comet crashing down in a lake in New Mexico. Oddly, our newly–landed alien is acclimating himself very quickly to this new life. Soon he visits a patent lawyer, Oliver V. Farnsworth (Buck Henry), invites him to be his attorney and to help him protect and develop the six inventions he’s brought with him from his home planet. He gets very rich very fast with his newly-built empire, the global conglomerate World Enterprises. Newton, however, is ever in a hurry. It quickly becomes obvious that earning immense wealth is but a means to an end, and that end is linked to his home planet. Ever secretive about his origins, he keeps a private life, surrounding himself with but a few choice trusted advisors, most notably Mary-Lou (Candy Clark), a regular working girl who turns Newton onto some of the pleasures this planet has to offer: sex and gin. There is also Dr. Nathan Bryce (Rip Torn), a college professor more interested in his students than in his curriculum, that is, until Newton comes along. Without spoiling the twists and hooks, the lion’s share of The Man Who Fell to Earth is spent watching not only the earthly discoveries of Thomas Jerome Newton – like his quirky obsession with television - but also of those close to him, especially Dr. Nathan Bryce, who has quite a bit of story about him too. This way, The Man Who Fell to Earth is less about a strange alien and more about the community he’s in.


It's ok, it's about sex, not violence.
It's ok, it's about sex, not violence.


The cinematography and its musical accompaniment is like nothing I've ever seen before. The montages are frequent and artistic, the music is so completely eclectic, yet every track is impeccably chosen, none of which is actually performed by Bowie. One particularly gorgeous scene that stands out has our alien in a Japanese restaurant distressed at the sword-fighting dance going on, juxtaposed with a montage of the sex a college professor is having while the student takes pictures using Newton's invention. Another beautiful montage has our oversexed professor romping with student after student. It ends with one girl jumping on the bed with Dr. Nathan Bryce, and using his penis as a microphone speaks into it, “you're not anything like my father”. Nudity abounds, and the sex scenes are plentiful, but fun. Sexuality is part and parcel of The Man Who Fell to Earth, approached with a contented comfort, clearly made in an era where the groundwork of the boundary-pushing sexual revolution of the 60s paved the way for its next phase, flourishing here, without the Hays Code to interfere.

The first half of The Man Who Fell to Earth is incredible. I didn’t want it to end, and sadly my wish came true. Once ‘the hook’ digs into Newton and begins creating a bumpy road to his master plan and his empire, the energy of The Man Who Fell to Earth, also falls. Save for a few scenes in the latter half of the film, it drones and extends itself beyond its need, becomes directionless and lags in an unnecessarily long epilogue. At 139 minutes, The Man Who Fell to Earth is safely a half hour too long of self-indulgence. Interestingly, the effectiveness and beauty of the work of Anthony B. Richmond and his glorious montages in the film’s first half could have been used in the end both to shorten the film, and to make it far more dynamic and artistic. 

 There's one thing we have in common...
There's one thing we have in common...

Performance: 9 Cinematography: 9 Script: 8 Plot: 7 Mood: 7

Overall Rating: 80% (Fails To Become Stellar)

I was about to entitle my post “The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976) or Praise Be To Anthony B. Richmond”, planning on raving about the career of the cinematographer who worked with director Nicolas Roeg in this as well as the exquisitely shot and montaged Don’t Look Now. Unfortunately these men would not work together as a Director/Cinematographer team again, leaving me to mourn the glorious photography I knew I would seek out after this viewing of The Man Who Fell to Earth.

Let me leave you with this morsel: after seeing The Man Who Fell to Earth, we might want to figure out what Richard Branson’s real plan is…

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