THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH

New in­sight into and pics of Ni­co­las Roeg’s sci-fi odd­ity.

SFX: The Sci-Fi and Fantasy Magazine - - Contents -

“He was not a man; yet he was very much like a man… His hair was as white as that of an al­bino, yet his face was a light tan colour; and his eyes a pale blue. His frame was im­prob­a­bly slight, his fea­tures del­i­cate, his fin­gers long, thin, and the skin al­most translu­cent, hair­less. There was an elfin quality to his face, a fine boy­ish look to the wide, in­tel­li­gent eyes… Man-like, he was sus­cep­ti­ble to love, to fear, to in­tense phys­i­cal pain and to self-pity.” The Man Who Fell to Earth, Wal­ter Te­vis (1963)

David Bowie could have been born to play Thomas Jerome New­ton, the frag­ile alien who comes to Earth to save his dy­ing planet. The orig­i­nal 1963 novel, like the film adap­ta­tion 13 years later, is a melan­choly con­sid­er­a­tion of the soul­less­ness of 20th cen­tury Amer­i­can life, and the de­struc­tive ef­fect it has on New­ton.

By 1976, Bowie had aban­doned his Ziggy Star­dust and Aladdin Sane stage per­sonas and es­tab­lished him­self in Amer­ica with the “plas­tic soul” of his Young Amer­i­cans al­bum. The 1974 BBC doc­u­men­tary Cracked Ac­tor had shown the star be­ing driven around the United States in a large black limou­sine, talk­ing non­sense as he grap­pled with a se­ri­ous co­caine habit. He was very much a stranger in a strange land: “There was a story that [di­rec­tor] Ni­co­las Roeg had con­sid­ered [the au­thor] Michael Crich­ton for New­ton be­cause he was very tall and un­usual look­ing,” re­calls The Man Who Fell To Earth’s cin­e­matog­ra­pher An­thony Rich­mond. “Then he set­tled on Bowie. There’s no other ac­tor who could have played that role, then or to­day.”

Rich­mond had known Roeg since the pair met on David Lean’s epic Doc­tor Zhivago in 1965 (“I was on that for a year”). They worked to­gether on such dis­tinc­tive 1960s films as A Funny Thing Hap­pened On The Way To The Fo­rum, Fahren­heit 451 (both 1966) and the an­ar­chic James Bond spoof Casino Royale (1967), be­fore Roeg be­gan his di­rect­ing ca­reer with the Aus­tralian Out­back odyssey Walk­a­bout (1970). Rich­mond also worked on Jean-Luc Go­dard’s Sym­pa­thy For The Devil (1968), The Rolling Stones Rock And Roll Cir­cus – filmed in 1968 but not re­leased un­til 28 years later, in 1996 – and the warts-and-all Bea­tles doc­u­men­tary Let It Be (1970). “I was get­ting offers to do more rock and roll,” he says, “but I thought, ‘I’m not go­ing to be able to beat the Stones, The Bea­tles and The Who,’ so I didn’t do any more after [Let It Be].”

Bowie’s co-star was Candy Clark, play­ing New­ton’s un­happy lover Mary Lou, fresh from an Os­car nom­i­na­tion for her role in Ge­orge Lu­cas’s Amer­i­can Graffiti (1973), a nos­tal­gic trib­ute to early 1960s teenage life. “Nic was go­ing into a meet­ing and I was waiting for him,” she tells SFX. “Be­fore he went in, he gave me the script and said, ‘Here, do you want to read this?’ I read it and when Nic came out, I told him, ‘This is bril­liant, it’s fan­tas­tic!’ He said, ‘Do you want to play Mary Lou?’ ‘Of course!’

“My­self, David and Nic had a real, real good work­ing re­la­tion­ship,” Candy re­flects. “Nic is a great di­rec­tor. In ev­ery scene you can see he’s stand­ing just out­side the frame, do­ing some body mo­tions telling you to pick it up or take it down. He’s re­ally

good at ex­plain­ing what he wants and is very easy to un­der­stand.

“When I met David Bowie I thought on his looks alone he was per­fect for the part. What I liked about work­ing with him was that be­cause he was a mu­si­cian he didn’t mind re­hears­ing. When the crew were set­ting up the lights to shoot one scene and we had some down­time, David and I would be run­ning lines for one an­other. There was a lot of re­ally great di­a­logue; we wanted to get it per­fect and not change any­thing. [Scriptwriter] Paul May­ers­berg worked re­ally hard on get­ting the di­a­logue right, so the chal­lenge for us was to get it ex­actly as he wrote it and not im­pro­vise or change it.”

The prin­ci­pal lo­ca­tion was the small town of Madrid in New Mex­ico. The film unit chose one par­tic­u­larly un­usual lo­ca­tion. “[The alien planet] was shot at the White Sands gov­ern­ment mis­sile range in Ala­m­agordo,” Rich­mond re­mem­bers. “I do believe we were the first peo­ple ever to shoot there. All the equip­ment we had to get in there was put on sleighs and pulled by horses. That’s why that funny lit­tle hay bail on the mono­rail doesn’t go very fast, be­cause it’s be­ing pulled along out of shot by a horse.”

In the Alam­ogordo scenes New­ton’s alien wife was played by none other than Candy Clark. “My [alien] make-up didn’t take as long as age­ing Mary Lou,” the ac­tress wryly notes. “That took a long time! They put some white make-up on that oblit­er­ated my eye­brows, gave me con­tact lenses and a suit that sprang leaks con­stantly, pour­ing pink wa­ter ev­ery­where.” When the unit re­lo­cated to New York, Clark stepped into the shoes of the lead­ing man him­self. “David wouldn’t fly, so that’s me get­ting into the limou­sine out­side the build­ing. I was wear­ing his clothes and had a lit­tle or­ange wig with a hat. Peo­ple were watch­ing the shoot from be­hind the bar­ri­cades and I could hear them go­ing, ‘There’s David Bowie!’ I didn’t cor­rect them.”

With the film com­plete, Clark pre­pared for the cus­tom­ary pro­mo­tional tour. She was in for a shock: “I asked the dis­trib­u­tor if I could see it be­fore I went out on the road. I’d seen it in Eng­land and it was beau­ti­ful, fan­tas­tic, but when I saw it in New York it had been to­tally de­stroyed.

“It made me sick. When you de­vote a year and a half of your life to some­thing… The dis­trib­u­tor Cin­ema 5 was an art house dis­trib­u­tor. Their whole rep­u­ta­tion was based on putting out the di­rec­tor’s cut, so ev­ery­one felt re­ally com­fort­able about putting the film there. Then 5 de­cided they wanted it to be a straight two-hour film, in­stead of two hours and 23 min­utes.

“They cut it willy-nilly too: they hired a guy who edited com­mer­cials. It took Nic and the film’s edi­tor Graeme Clif­ford a year to cut it and 5’s guy butchered it in a week. It was like chop­ping up a Van Gogh be­cause you have a small frame – ‘We’ll just have the sun­flow­ers, we’ll leave out the back­ground.’ I saw it and went, ‘Oh my god!’… I was the one who had to break the news to Nic.

“For years I had this hor­ri­ble VCR of the film that no one could make any sense of. Fi­nally, I found my mo­ment: years later, I phoned the peo­ple at [the com­pany] in charge of pub­lic­ity and dis­tri­bu­tion, and made it sound like I was be­ing con­stantly bom­barded with re­quests from peo­ple to see the un­cut ver­sion. They ac­tu­ally lis­tened to me. I then said, ‘You don’t have to do any­thing. Put it out with the same poster with a ban­ner across it say­ing Un­cut Di­rec­tor’s Cut – they’ll be lin­ing up around the block!’ I also told them, ‘I’ll do what­ever it takes. I’ll travel with it, do ra­dio, news­pa­pers, what­ever.’

“When the guy called back a week or so later and said, ‘Our neg­a­tive’s been cut’, I replied, ‘Oh, I know where to get the neg­a­tive!’ I got in touch with the pro­duc­ers in Eng­land, Michael Dee­ley and Barry Spik­ings at Bri­tish Lion, and the rest is his­tory.’

For The Man Who Fell To Earth’s 40th an­niver­sary year, Rich­mond has been closely in­volved in what he be­lieves is the de­fin­i­tive DVD and Blu-ray ver­sion of the film: “Un­like the other re­lease, which was done by some­one else, I’ve pulled it much more akin to the film print, which is how it should be. There are a few scenes I wasn’t happy with, and there was a lot of ma­genta in the pre­vi­ous ver­sion, which I’ve cor­rected. I’m very happy with it.” Rich­mond be­lieves the film is more rel­e­vant than ever. “It was way ahead of its time be­cause to­day cor­po­ra­tions run the world. When New­ton’s in that apart­ment in that strange chair and watch­ing 20 or 30 tele­vi­sions, that’s way ahead of its time be­cause now we’re to­tally bom­barded with visual in­for­ma­tion. I’ve got 400 TV chan­nels in Los An­ge­les and there’s noth­ing worth watch­ing. It’s all garbage.” The film con­tin­ues to fas­ci­nate be­cause it merges Bowie’s fic­tional char­ac­ter with his real, rock star self. He took the clothes de­signed for him in the film on his sub­se­quent Sta­tion To Sta­tion tour, and New­ton’s driver and body­guard in the film is played by Tony Mas­cia, Bowie’s real driver and body­guard. Strik­ingly, in a scene near the end of the film, a dis­play for the Young Amer­i­cans LP can be seen in a record shop, while New­ton him­self be­comes a dis­so­lute rock singer un­der the alias the Vis­i­tor (in the book, he records po­etry). There’s no es­cap­ing the fact that the cel­e­bra­tions around The Man Who Fell To Earth’s restora­tion and re-re­lease will, in­evitably, be coloured by Bowie’s death in Jan­uary of this year. “It was re­ally, re­ally sad,” Rich­mond says. “I hadn’t spo­ken to him for years, but when­ever he per­formed in Los An­ge­les I’d get tick­ets and go and see him. “The Man Who Fell To Earth was such an im­por­tant part of my life and David’s. It was an ex­traor­di­nary few months. Bowie didn’t act – he truly played him­self.”

The Man Who Fell To Earth is avail­able on Blu-ray, DVD and down­load from 24 Oc­to­ber, in­clud­ing a Col­lec­tor’s Edi­tion.

When I saw the film in New York it had been to­tally de­stroyed

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