The Man Who Fell to Earth (film)
|The Man Who Fell to Earth|
promotional film poster
|Directed by||Nicolas Roeg|
|Produced by||Michael Deeley
|Screenplay by||Paul Mayersberg|
|Based on||The Man Who Fell to Earth by
|Music by||John Phillips
|Cinematography||Anthony B. Richmond|
|Editing by||Graeme Clifford|
|Distributed by||British Lion Films (UK)
Cinema 5 Distributing
Columbia Pictures (US)
|Release date(s)||18 March 1976 (London)
May 28, 1976 (NYC)
|Running time||138 minutes|
The film is based on the 1963 novel of the same name by Walter Tevis, about an extraterrestrial who crash lands on Earth seeking a way to ship water to his planet, which is suffering from a severe drought. The film maintains a strong cult following for its use of surreal imagery and its performances by David Bowie (in his first starring film role), Candy Clark, and Hollywood veteran Rip Torn. The same novel was later remade as a less successful 1987 television adaptation.
Thomas Jerome Newton (David Bowie) is a humanoid alien who comes to Earth from a distant planet on a mission to bring water back to his home planet, which is experiencing a catastrophic drought.
Newton uses the advanced technology of his home planet to patent many inventions on Earth, and acquires incredible wealth as the head of a technology-based conglomerate, World Enterprises Corporation, aided by leading patent attorney Oliver V. Farnsworth (Buck Henry). His wealth is needed to construct his own space vehicle with the intention of shipping water back to his planet. While revisiting New Mexico, he meets Mary-Lou (Candy Clark), a lonely, unloved, and simple girl who works as a maid, bell-hop, and elevator operator in a small hotel; he tells her he is English. Mary-Lou introduces Newton to many customs of Earth, including church-going, alcohol, and sex. She and Newton live together, eventually in a house Newton has had built near where he initially landed in New Mexico.
Meanwhile Dr. Nathan Bryce (Rip Torn), a former womanizer and college professor, has landed a job as a fuel technician with World Enterprises and slowly becomes Newton's confidant. Bryce senses Newton's alienness and arranges a meeting with Newton at his home where he has hidden a special X-ray camera. When he steals a picture of Newton with the camera, it reveals Newton's alien physiology. Newton's appetite for alcohol and television (he watches multiple televisions at once) becomes crippling and the two fight. Realizing that Bryce has learnt his secret, Newton reveals his alien form to Mary-Lou, and her resulting reaction is one of pure shock and horror. He leaves her.
Newton completes the spaceship and attempts to take it on its maiden voyage amid intense press exposure. However, just before his scheduled take-off, he is seized and detained, apparently by the government and a rival company; his business partner, Farnsworth, is murdered. The government, which has apparently been told by Bryce that Newton is an alien, holds him captive in a locked luxury apartment, constructed deep within a hotel. During his stay, they keep him sedated with alcohol (to which he has become addicted) and continuously subject him to rigorous medical tests — notably one involving X-rays which causes the contact lenses he wears as part of his human disguise to permanently affix themselves to his eyes.
Toward the end of his years of captivity, he is visited again by Mary-Lou, who is now much older and whose looks have been ravaged by alcohol and time. They have violent sex and occupy their time drinking and playing table tennis, but finally each declares they no longer love the other. She leaves him. Eventually Newton discovers that his "prison," now derelict, is unlocked, and he escapes.
Throughout the film are brief sequences of his wife and children back on his home planet, slowly dying, and by the end of the film they are dead and Newton is stuck on Earth, broken, alcoholic, and alone. He creates a recording with alien messages, which he hopes will be broadcast via radio to his home planet. Bryce, who has since married Mary-Lou, buys a copy of the album and meets Newton at an outside restaurant in town. Newton is still rich and young looking despite the passage of many years. However, Newton has also fallen into depression and alcoholism and the film ends with an inebriated Newton passing out in his cafe chair.
There is a suggestion within the film that Newton exists in multiple time frames, and is also psychic. In a scene where Newton drives past a field, he sees people who lived there in the distant past, and they also see him in his car driving past the field. Also in various scenes of the film it is suggested that Newton can experience what Bryce is experiencing and feeling.
- David Bowie as Thomas Jerome Newton
- Buck Henry as Oliver Farnsworth
- Rip Torn as Nathan Bryce
- Candy Clark as Mary-Lou
- Tony Mascia as Arthur
- Rick Riccardo as Trevor
- Bernie Casey as Mr. Peters
- In the scene in which Newton attempts to board his spacecraft, he is greeted by a crowd that includes real-life astronaut Jim Lovell (commander of the ill-fated Apollo 13 mission), playing himself, and by author Terry Southern, as a reporter. In the scene set in the record store, an advertising banner for Bowie's album Young Americans can be seen hanging from the ceiling as the shot follows Bryce's walk behind the record bins.
Paramount Pictures had distributed Roeg's previous film, Don't Look Now (1973) and agreed to pay $1.5 million for the US rights. Michael Deeley used this guarantee to raise finance to make the movie.
Filming began on 6 July 1975. The film was primarily shot in New Mexico, with filming locations in Albuquerque, White Sands, Artesia and Fenton Lake. The film's production had been scheduled to last eleven weeks, and throughout that time, the film crew ran into a variety of obstacles: Bowie was sidelined for a few days after drinking bad milk; film cameras jammed up; and for one scene shot in the desert, the movie crew had to contend with a group of Hells Angels who were camping nearby.
Bowie, who was heavily into cocaine at the time of the movie's production, admitted later that he was in a fragile state of mind when filming was underway, going so far as to state in 1983 that "I'm so pleased I made that [film], but I didn't really know what was being made at all". He said of his performance:
I just threw my real self into that movie as I was at that time. It was the first thing I'd ever done. I was virtually ignorant of the established procedure [of making movies], so I was going a lot on instinct, and my instinct was pretty dissipated. I just learned the lines for that day and did them the way I was feeling. It wasn't that far off. I actually was feeling as alienated as that character was. It was a pretty natural performance. ... a good exhibition of somebody literally falling apart in front of you. I was totally insecure with about 10 grams [of cocaine] a day in me. I was stoned out of my mind from beginning to end.
Bowie and director Roeg had a good relationship with each other on set. Bowie recalled in 1992 that "we got on rather well. I think I was fulfilling what he needed from me for that role. I wasn't disrupting ... I wasn't disrupted. In fact, I was very eager to please. And amazingly enough, I was able to carry out everything I was asked to do. I was quite willing to stay up as long as anybody."
Although Bowie was originally approached to provide the music, contractual wrangles during production caused him to withdraw from this aspect of the project, and the music used in the film was coordinated by John Phillips, former leader of the pop group The Mamas & the Papas, with contributions from Phillips himself and Japanese percussionist-composer Stomu Yamashta, as well as some stock music. The music was recorded at CTS Lansdowne Recording Studios in London, England.
Due to a creative and contractual dispute with Roeg and the studio, no official soundtrack was ever released for the film, even though the 1976 Pan Books paperback edition of the novel (released to tie in with the film) states on the back cover that the soundtrack is available on RCA. According to Bowie in several interviews over the years, there are no plans ever to release a soundtrack album, and he has absolutely no desire to undertake the effort due to the legal entanglements.
Composed & recorded by Stomu Yamashta:
Performed by John Phillips:
Relationship with the novel 
The screenplay by Paul Mayersberg differs from the novel in some details. Several physical changes occur to the characters, most notably the appearance of Bowie's signature orange hair — in the book, Newton is described as having curly white-blonde hair. Newton is also a much more stoic character in the film, who sheds no tears despite his aggravation, frustration and torment. Newton is written as being 6 ft 5 in (196 cm) tall, whereas Bowie's height is a relatively average 5'10". One of Roeg's first choices for Newton was the 6 ft 9 in (206 cm) novelist Michael Crichton.
The film also features changes to other characters. In the novel, the Mary-Lou character is called Betty Jo, and she acts merely as a sort of housekeeper, with no suggestion that there is any intimate relationship between her and Newton, although the film's resolution, which sees Bryce and Mary Lou become lovers, follows the plot of the novel.
Another minor change is the character of Newton's mysterious French valet, Brinnarde, who is in fact an FBI agent. In the film this becomes the incidental character of Arthur, Newton's driver.
The film screenplay develops the character of Dr. Bryce in considerably more depth than in the novel. In the book Tevis portrays Bryce as a lonely widower, but an early scene in the film suggests that Bryce may be separated or divorced. The film depicts Bryce having sexual encounters with his young female students, and his meeting with Prof. Canutti in the film develops this "mid-life-crisis" aspect even further. Roeg also uses these trysts to introduce the plot point of Bryce's fascination with World Enterprises' new technology — in the book, Bryce's curiosity is aroused after seeing a movie filmed in the new "Worldcolor" process, whereas in the film Bryce becomes aware of the new technology after his lover uses one of Newton's self-developing cameras to photograph their love-making.
In the film, Bryce's discovery of Newton's alien identity — by secretly photographing him with an X-ray camera — is closely modelled on the novel. However, by showing a shadowy figure who observes Newton just after his ship arrives on Earth, Roeg signals from the outset that the government has known of Newton's presence and kept him under surveillance since the day he arrived, a revelation that is made near the end of the novel.
Newton's mission is kept vague in the film. In the book, however, it is explained that Newton's space vehicle is intended to return to Anthea automatically and ferry the surviving Antheans back to Earth, after which they plan to infiltrate key government posts and take over the direction of Earth's affairs. In a key chapter, Newton reveals to Bryce that Anthea has been virtually destroyed by a nuclear war which has exterminated several other intelligent species, and that only about three hundred of Newton's own species now survive. He also reveals that the key motivation for his mission is the Antheans' fear that a global nuclear war will devastate the Earth within the next decade unless they intervene.
The character of Newton's lawyer and amanuensis Oliver Farnsworth (played by writer-actor Buck Henry) is also considerably more developed than in the novel; Roeg's depiction of Farnsworth's home life clearly suggests that Farnsworth is gay and in a long-term relationship with a younger man, and Farnsworth's brutal death at the hands of federal agents is another plot point that appears only in the film adaptation.
Depictions of the span and passage of time also differ markedly between the novel and film. The novel uses definite dates to specify time-period, revolving around events such as the elections of presidents and the beginnings of wars — the revised version of the book is divided into three main sections, set in the years 1985, 1988 and 1990 respectively, with the entire action in novel taking place over a period of just five years. In the 1963 edition, the dates began in 1972 and ended at 1976. There is a small time line inconsistency in the revised version of the novel (all editions published after 1978).
In the film, there are no calendars or clocks and there is no overt reference to the passing of the years, although there is one brief indication of the historical setting for the first section of the film — when Newton first visits Farnsworth in New York, an establishing street shot shows a banner for the 1976 United States Bicentennial celebrations. This is most likely also a reference to the original plot of the novel, with Newton eventually discovering that he has been detained by the CIA because the incumbent US Democratic administration is desperate that the alien's identity not be revealed because it is an election year (as it was in 1976).
The most obvious time indicator in the film is that Newton's appearance never changes, while the human characters age markedly, with Rip Torn and Candy Clark's characters passing from youth to late middle-age through the film, suggesting that the action in the film has been expanded to cover a period of perhaps fifteen to twenty-five years.
In fact, the film uses few transitions aside from straight cuts, which, in tandem with surreal montages which could freely be dream sequences, simultaneous events, or parallel realities, intentionally distorting the viewer's sense of the passage of time. Other details are also omitted, such as the name of Newton's home world (Anthea, in the novel) and the fate of Newton's original vehicle to reach Earth.
Many other changes, such as the setting being transformed from Kentucky to New Mexico, hinged for the most part on the film's budget and available resources; according to the bonus "making-of" documentary included in the DVD edition of the film, New Mexico was chosen primarily because it had recently passed new labor laws which allowed the producers to import an all-British crew. But ultimately these changes were used by Nicolas Roeg for more interpretive and artistic purposes; the use of local sand dunes to depict Newton's home world was very useful.
The final, secret medical examination (in the novel, but omitted almost entirely from this movie's interpretation), is ultimately an X-ray of Newton's skull, through his eyes. Newton, whose eyes are sensitive to X-rays, tries to stop them to no avail and is blinded.
According to Michael Deeley, when Barry Diller of Paramount Pictures saw the finished film he refused to pay for it, claiming it was different from the movie the studio wanted. British Lion sued Paramount and received a small settlement. The film obtained a small release in the US through Cinema V in exchange for $850,000 and due to foreign sales the film's budget was just recouped.
Since its release in 1976, The Man Who Fell to Earth has grown to a cult status. On the movie review site Rotten Tomatoes the film has earned an 86% "Fresh" rating with a consensus of: "Filled with stunning imagery, The Man Who Fell to Earth is a calm, meditative film that profoundly explores our culture's values and desires." It was entered into the 26th Berlin International Film Festival. Bowie won the Saturn Award for Best Actor for his work in the film.
The film has received mixed reviews from critics. Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times awarded the film 2½ stars of four, writing in his review that the film is "so preposterous and posturing, so filled with gaps of logic and continuity, that if it weren't so solemn there'd be the temptation to laugh aloud." When the film was re-released in 2011, Ebert gave the film three stars, stating that readers should "consider this just a quiet protest vote against the way projects this ambitious are no longer possible in the mainstream movie industry."  Richard Eder of The New York Times praised the film, writing, "There are quite a few science-fiction movies scheduled to come out in the next year or so. We shall be lucky if even one or two are as absorbing and as beautiful as The Man Who Fell to Earth."
Home media 
The Man Who Fell to Earth was originally released onto DVD on August 25, 1998 through Fox Lorber with no special features. On February 11, 2003 Anchor Bay released a special edition two-disc set of the film. This version contains many special features such as commentaries, interviews, and a trailer. Finally, on September 27, 2005 the film was released in a high-definition widescreen transfer as a part of the Criterion Collection. This director-approved edition of the film contained all of the special features of the Anchor Bay version plus newer interviews. The Criterion Collection then re-released the film on December 16, 2008 in the Blu-ray format. It has since gone out of print.
In popular culture 
- The cover art for David Bowie's 1977 album Low is based on the film's poster. His 1976 album Station to Station features another still from the film.
- The film was used as one of the key elements of the novel VALIS by Philip K. Dick, with David Bowie appearing in the novel as "Mother Goose" and the film represented by the titular film "VALIS", although plot elements were changed dramatically, so that the film became something very different in Dick's novel. The novel also incorporates a - fictional - incident in which Dick visits David Bowie and Brian Eno, who turn out to be harbouring a small child who may be the messiah.
- The music video to Guns N' Roses's 1987 "Welcome to the Jungle" was partially based on The Man Who Fell to Earth.
- The music video to Scott Weiland's 1998 song "Barbarella" uses themes from The Man Who Fell to Earth.
- The music video to Marilyn Manson's 1998 song "The Dope Show" uses themes from The Man Who Fell to Earth.
- The film is referenced both lyrically and visually in the video for the song "E=MC2" by the British band Big Audio Dynamite.
- In 2001, David Bowie starred in an XM Radio commercial where he fell through the roof of a motel. Upon standing, he looks up and states "I'll never get used to that." 
- Dr. Manhattan’s apartment and Ozymandias' Antarctic retreat in the 2009 film Watchmen were mainly based on the set of The Man Who Fell to Earth.
- The 2009 song "ATX" by Alberta Cross is based on David Bowie's character in The Man Who Fell to Earth.
- Michael Fassbender has said he used Bowie's performance as an inspiration for the android David in Ridley Scott's 2012 science fiction film Prometheus.
- The television series Fringe features a recurring character who uses the alias Thomas Jerome Newton. The series had previously used a character named David Robert Jones, which is David Bowie's real name. The series also features a secondary character named Farnsworth.
- In Bret Easton Ellis's 2010 novel Imperial Bedrooms, the main character mentions that he is involved with writing the script for a remake of The Man Who Fell to Earth.
- A movie poster for The Man Who Fell to Earth can be seen in the 2011 film Green Lantern.
- Michael Deeley, Blade Runners, Deer Hunters and Blowing the Bloody Doors Off: My Life in Cult Movies, Pegasus Books, 2009 p 116-127
- Rozen, Leah (1976-10-01). "'Man who Fell' baffling". Daily Collegian (Penn State University).
- Blackburn, Olly (2008-07-09). "Olly Blackburn meets Nic Roeg". Time Out London.
- Edwards, Henry (1976-03-21). "Bowie's Back But the Glitter's Gone; Bowie's Back But the Glitter's Gone". The New York Times.
- Eder, Richard (1976-06-06). "'Man Who Fell to Earth' Is Beautiful Science Fiction". The New York Times.
- "The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976) - Full cast and crew". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 2008-07-10.
- http://www.rockhall.com/inductee/david-bowie Filming begins
- "Fenton Lake State Park". NM State Parks.
- "Best-movie Oscar is film-office triumph". Santa Fe New Mexican. 2008-03-03.
- http://www.bowiegoldenyears.com/mwfte.html Filming obstacles
- Loder, Kurt (12 May 1983), "Straight Time", Rolling Stone magazine (395): 22–28, 81
- Campbell, Virginia (April 1992), "Bowie at the Bijou", Movieline 3 (7): 30–36, 80, 83, 86–87
- "Obituary: John Phillips". The Independent (London, England). 2001-03-20. "He recorded with his new partner Genevieve Waite and provided the soundtrack for Nic Roeg's 1976 cult film The Man Who Fell to Earth."
- Cocks, Jay (1976-06-14). "Heavenly Body". Time (magazine).
- The Man Who Fell to Earth at Rotten Tomatoes
- "IMDB.com: Awards for The Man Who Fell to Earth". imdb.com. Retrieved 2010-07-16.
- Roger Ebert (23 July 1976). "The Man Who Fell to Earth". Chicago Sun Times. Retrieved 3 April 2012.
- Roger Ebert (13 July 2011). "The Man Who Fell to Earth". Chicago Sun Times. Retrieved 3 April 2012.
- Richard Eder - review
- Guns N' Roses Video History
- MTV.com: A Walk On The Weiland Side
- http://www.wired.com/underwire/2009/03/designing-the-w/ Wired- The Design of Watchmen
- http://www.uncut.co.uk/news/alberta_cross/news/13503 Uncut - Alberta Cross News
- Fringe (Season 2)
- Google Books, Imperial Bedrooms by Bret Easton Ellis.
- The Man Who Fell to Earth at the Internet Movie Database
- The Man Who Fell to Earth at AllRovi
- 2001 XM Radio TV commercial
- Criterion Collection essay by Graham Fuller