35 Years Later, David Bowie as ET in The Man Who Fell to Earth
Lord, I never knew America was so beautiful! cries Candy Clark, the ideal audience for British cinematographer-turned-director" Nicolas Roegs The Man Who Fell to Earth, which surveys the USA at its most gross and grandiose, through alien eyes. For his protagonist and avatar of Otherness, Roeg cast David Bowie. Orange-haired and alabaster, Bowie plays an extraterrestrial who splashes down in the Southwest, assumes the identity of Englishman Mr. Newton, and proceeds to make himself a multimillionaire inventor, bent on developing the technology to return to his dying planet and family. The shifts of setting and passing of the 20-year timeline go unannounced; Newton never seems to age, while the singled-out characters affected by his visitClarks motel-chambermaid-turned-companion, Buck Henrys patent lawyer, Rip Torns professor, Bernie Caseys government stoogeturn gray, heavy, and alcoholic. (Victim of muddling authorities and couch potatoing, Newton grows venal and boozy himself.) Full of blown experiments like cross-cutting dinner-theater kabuki grunts with Torns lovemaking, the film, celebrating its 35th anniversary with a re-release, is undeniably long, Panavision-wide, but of questionable depth. While immortalizing Bowies mantis-like exoticism, Roeg fails to connect to the longing for family reunion that drives the plot. Domesticity is more vividly imagined as part of Earth societys sickness, defied in a preposterous moment where Bowie slo-mo slaps a tray of chocolate-chip cookies from Clarks hands. Like her, the viewer sticks out the bad for a chance at the extraordinary; Roegs images are nearly reward enough.
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