47 FILMS: 25. THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH – Nicolas Roeg’s 1976 movie is a classic of science fiction and provided David Bowie with his most iconic role.
Everything about Nic Roeg’s mid-seventies classic is bold and fascinating. The editing, the performances, the camera work and the script. Everything. Bowie plays Thomas Newton, an alien who has come to Earth to take water back to his planet which is suffering from a terrible drought and where his family await his return. Patenting a series of inventions due to the advanced technology of his own planet, Newton becomes incredibly rich and a target for dark forces within the government as well as plagued by his own distractions. Having tasted various pleasures with his guide, the down on her luck Mary-Lou (Candy Clarke) Newton begins to acclimatize to the planet losing his way in the midst of alcoholism and, wouldn’t you guess it, alienation. His one friend, a womanizing academic Dr. Bryce (Rip Torn) betrays him to the authorities and as they test him, they also strip him of his identity. Testing his eyes will make it impossible for him to remove his contact lenses which serve as a disguise.
Based on a novel by Walter Tevis (who also wrote The Hustler!), the film is so suited to Bowie himself that it’s difficult at times not to assume it’s a documentary and that there’s something about Bowie that we always suspected but is only now revealed. Loving the alien has been a consistent theme of Bowie’s work and also to some extent Nicolas Roeg. Forty years on from its initial release, The Man who Fell to Earth still has the power to shock and amaze. It also has one of the best final lines and shots in the history of cinema.