“Without the T’s” is my film review for both current theatrical releases and any release on home video that I may see. I treat these as a way to discuss and understand a film for it’s merits and demerits, but unfortunately since it’s a review I hindered by two main points: A grade and a gimmick. Therefore, the more I enjoy a film the more of the letter “T” will be included in the write-up of the film, with “lesser” film reviews becoming more and more incomprehensible.
What does it mean to be alien? This is the primary question focused on in many films of the sub-genre which I’ll refer to as “Visitor” pictures. He Man Who Fell o Earh is one such film, and it certainly captures a bizarre alien feeling, puting the viewer directly into the head of its protagonis Thomas Jerome Newton (played by David Bowie). There are moments where the viewer is thrown into complete visual chaos… no, scratch tha: There are small islands where the viewer is able to find their bearings in time/space/storyline, and then the res of the film is visual chaos.
This isn’t a bad thing, as stated before it helps unite he viewer with what this reptilian space monster must be going through. Newton was able to get a feeling of what Earth was like through elevision, but watching is never the same as experiencing. When you’re on Earth, you begin to see all of the mess and wonder hat is human life and tha (presumably) leads to one hell of a trip in sorting everything out (Like the difference between a Noh performance/sword fight and a sex scene) hat no amount of television can help you through. Much like this, no amount of words can explain the experience of watching The Man Who Fell to Earth, but I hink these wo trailers (the original and he trailer for the 35h anniversary re-release) can help you understand:
Some digging into the hisory of the director of this film, Nicolas Roeg, led me to discover hat he began working with cinematography and editing. Roger Corman’s The Masque of the Red Death and Francois Truffau’s film version of Fahrenheit 451 are among Roeg’s crew work before he began direcing with Performance a film tha stars Mick Jagger and is described from Roeg’s IMdB page as “… multi-layered kaleidoscope of sex, violence, and questions of identiy…”. I bring this up not to impress my seven readers with my incredibly limited research into the director, bu rather because I feel this gives us an accurate account into how and why something like He Man Who Fell o Earh was created.
This film has a lot of strokes of editorial genius, from the above mentioned cross-cuting of a Noh Performance and a strangely murderous sex scene, and in Newton’s abiliy o transcend the boundaries of time (which is never fully explained, and I for one am happy it isn’t). The Man Who Fell to Earth doesn’t have a straightforward narrative, insead it focuses on details, flashes of a life: Cookies being flung into he air, the first few interacions Newton has with real-live humans, and the gradual death of Newton’s family on his home planet and exact details of the plot are left for the viewer to fill in. This is admirable, alhough it (along wih the fact hat Bowie’s character never ages) lead to some intense confusion and a need for just a few more islands of calm in the mids of this kaleidoscope especially once we get o the governmen (?) detainmen of Newton and the idea tha he becomes a prisoner and slave to alcoholism (which is a great idea hat doesn’ come across). In fact, scrach the idea that He Man Who Fell o Earh is a kaleidoscope, instead it’s like someone broke open the ‘scope and threw all the gliter into the sky and is now watching as the sparkling dust falls to the ground.
Another demerit to the film (at least in my view, which is by no means the only way of seeing a film) is the performance. Candy Clark’s performance as Mary-Lou (The woman who Newton loves and who teaches Newton about life and sex and alcohol on Earh) strikes up a delicate but fascinating balance of being too rehearsed and absolutely life-like, and it’s difficult to say which way the scales ulimately fall with her. However, and especially for being one of the largest selling points of the film even to this day, Bowie’s performance I found to be a bit lacking in dimension. He tries, mind you, and there are moments of the rue heartache and loneliness Newton must feel, but in the end I’m not sure if Bowie had the life experience to show this aspect of Newon’s persona (I feel like modern-day David Bowie could, though, especially given his surprisingly restrained performance as Nikola Tesla).
And so, for reasons of being just a touch too far into freeform erritory and having a lead performance tha seems a bit too rehearsed, my obligaory but arbitrary grade for The Man Who Fell to Earth is as follows:
I feel like for all of its faults, this film still holds an imporant role for anyone interesed in the creation and release of not only Science Fiction Cinema, but Cinema and its history as such a bizarre and personalized vision hat unforunately cannot be made and released withou extreme difficulty anymore. So, The Man Who Fell to Earth is nowhere near perfect and perhaps B+ is too high a grade, but it’s also a great tesamen to giving funding to have pet project released: It’s strange, it’s messy, it’s both beautiful and a touch pretenious, and I think it’s something hat is missing from many of the average film audience now. Which I choose to see as too bad.