THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH
Rejected headlines: Roeg One. Roeg Warrior. Then we ran out of phrases with “rogue”.
IF YOU’RE LOOKING for a David Bowie origin story better than the prosaic “he was born in Brixton”, then you can pretend that Nicolas Roeg ’s The Man Who Fell To Earth is it; that Bowie came from a planet where orgasms are represented by expert trampolinists bouncing 15 feet high in the air, spinning alien semen (actually buckets of wallpaper glue — we asked) against a black sky. Makes sense.
Four decades on, Roeg’s sci-fi is as despairing, decadent, hopeful, bizarre and nihilistic as ever. Based on a 1963 novel by Walter Tevis, it tells the story of Thomas Newton (Bowie), an alien who comes to Earth in the hope of saving his dying homeworld. Along the way, he meets a girl, discovers booze, slides into a pit of existential despair, and disbelieving, cynical humans ruin everything for him. And make him play ping-pong into the bargain.
At first, Roeg favoured the tall, skinny author Michael Crichton for the role of Newton, but then he plumped for the brilliant Bowie, then at the height of his musical fame and looking to break into movies. It was perfect casting: an alien to play an alien. Now, with the movie being re-released with a 4K revamp, we spoke to Roeg, his cinematographer Anthony B Richmond and co-star Candy Clark for their memories of The
Man Who Fell To Earth, and Bowie, the man who fell to Earth.
tweezy does it Newton reveals his true self to Mary-lou (Clark) by removing his contacts via tweezers, exposing his alien eyes. “It’s one of my favourite shots in the movie,” says Richardson. “Nic and I were in that tiny bathroom trying to keep out of the mirrors ourselves. We just got it done.” ROEG ONE Roeg and Bowie pore over the script. “Our relationship was very secretive,” says Roeg. “I never thought of him as an ‘actor’. He was living the part. Our first meeting seemed to be based on a sense of destiny.” Bowie once said he functioned on ten grams of cocaine a day while shooting, but Clark says that wasn’t the case. “He was totally stone-cold sober. He gave a promise to Nic Roeg that he would not do drugs and I think he kept his promise, I really do.”