The Man Who Fell to Earth (A 40th Anniversary Look Back)

considers what makes The Man Who Fell to Earth resonate for audiences, decades after its release

man who fell to earth The stars looked very different that day. I was shattered along with the rest of the world upon hearing the devastating news that David Bowie had passed away on the 10th January this year. I sat in pensive half-darkness that morning listening to Lazarus, a song I’d only heard for the first time the night before. The defiant, haunting beauty of that track struck me so deeply, I obsessively played it over and over again; the heart-breaking realisation that it was him saying goodbye slowly sinking in…

I started watching every documentary and interview I could get my hands on. In exploring his film catalogue, I stumbled across a movie I had been meaning to see for ages, The Man Who Fell To Earth (1976). Upon actually seeing it, I was immediately struck by how passionate this was, sometimes quite indulgent, but overall really unique. Despite 2016 marking forty years since its original release, it still maintains a sharp, current atmosphere. It is like a romantic Sci-Fi fable, it feels melancholy, timeless–like a dystopic elegy to dreamers, a critique on Capitalism and how it’s underlying vices can twist fantasies into sordid nightmares. It tells the story of the mysterious Thomas Jerome Newton (Bowie), an alien who’s come to Earth to obtain water for his dying home planet. Along the way, he encounters various human specimens and gradually becomes engulfed within a world of booze, sex and corrupt business greed, consequently descending into grotesque addiction and depression.

Bowie was perfect in his debut leading role, never failing to look effortlessly cool in an overcoat against the dry, boiling backdrop of New Mexico. It’s hard to imagine anyone else in the part – no one could ever come close to encapsulating that exotic allure that Bowie had in the seventies. With the momentous first appearance of the beautifully androgynous ‘Ziggy Stardust’ in 1972, he rocked the world; a sonic alien equipped with a shock of red hair, a crooked smile and suave acidic charm. He was charismatic and somehow also vulnerable – just what director Nicholas Roeg was looking for. Even though Bowie had retired Ziggy by the time the film went into production and adopted a new character, the ‘Thin White Duke’, he still had the aura of a ‘fragile alien in a new climate’.

You could say that he wasn’t so much a chameleon, but more a magpie. Bowie described himself as a collector, someone who could take on the guises of various people and had the ability to adopt different personalities. He was able to embody every emotional experience and quirk of the human condition. In The Man Who Fell To Earth, he was almost unattainable, playing a stunning unearthly creature, yet so easily relatable. This relatability was particularly crucial for anyone going through feelings of isolation, teenagers especially. Conquering the difficulty of having to adapt to a new place or situation is constant human experience. To be alive is to, at some time, feel alone or daunted by things that seem increasingly beyond your control. This crisis of loneliness while trying to connect with others is what makes this character so universal. He may not be human, but the obstacles that Thomas Jerome Newton is confronted with are so easy to identify with. It’s why The Man Who Fell To Earth is so pivotal within Bowie’s career. This alien, otherworldly, character he portrays is a mirrors his own enigmatic, otherworldly, legacy. Even though Bowie is so synonymous with the otherworldly, his music always rang so true – he inspired a generation to celebrate their eccentricities, not hone in on or dissect them. He embraced the bizarre and hailed the outsiders, those on the fringes, as beautiful rebels.

Revisiting The Man Who Fell To Earth in the year of its 40th Anniversary, and the year that we lost Bowie, is the perfect way to commemorate Bowie. Here is man who roams the planet with a glamorous, mystical swagger, illuminating the greys of our world; bejewelling our day to day adventures, our most treasured memories with his kaleidoscopic sound and vision. Starman, artist, legend – an unparalleled genius.

A salute to Ziggy, with all the love in the world from a girl hooked to the silver screen.

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