On Wednesday, March 7th, We continue our science fiction cinema series at Mother’s Velvet Lounge with Nicholas Roeg’s 1976 classic, The Man Who Fell To Earth, starring the Thin White Duke himself, David Bowie in his ground breaking dramatic film debut. Also staring are Candy Clark, Rip Torn and Buck Henry.
Thomas Jerome Newton (David Bowie) is a humanoid alien on a mission to establish a means of transporting water from the Earth to his dying desert home planet and hopefully save his wife and children. Without revealing his true identity, his plan involves building a company and marketing his alien technology to accrue enough capital to launch his own space program. Partnering up with patent lawyer, Oliver Farnsworth (Buck Henry), Newton establishes World Enterprises, a cutting edge tech company that takes the world by storm with dramatic leaps in home entertainment systems and photographic processes. Newton himself struggles to adapt to the ways of the inhabitants of his new home while maintaining his anonymity. He partners up romantically with the kind and uncomplicated Mary-Lou (Candy Clark), a maid at a New Mexico hotel who serves as his guide to mainstream America, but in the bargain introduces him to the dangerous addictions that may prove his undoing. Nathan Bryce (Rip Torn), a skirt chasing college professor becomes fascinated with Newton’s empire and joins his aerospace division in the hopes of unraveling the mystery of the man himself.
Parallel to all of this, military,economic and political interests in the nation’s capitol are concerned that Newton’s technological revolution is actually over-stimulating the US economy and feel threatened by the unpredictability of the change that World Enterprises represents. Measures will have to be taken to stem the winds of change that Newton brings with him…
Nicholas Roeg was one of the most important figures in cinema in the first half of the 1970s directing four features that remain influential to this day. Performance (1970) which he co-directed with Donald Cammell and starred James Fox and Mick Jagger, was a hallucinogenic fusion of East London gangster saga and rock and roll drug film. Following that was Walkabout (1971), the critically acclaimed tale of survival set in the Australian outback. And in 1973 he adapted Daphne Du Maurier’s thriller, Don’t Look Now with Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland. Always an uncompromising visual stylist, Roeg called on his background as a cinematographer (Fahrenheit 451, Far From The Madding Crowd) to create distinctly visual stories, usually with spare dialogue and little exposition. The Man Who Fell To Earth is rich in quite mysteries which invite the viewer to meet it half way. Particularly fascinating is how Roeg deals with time, often employing his signature editorial juxtapositions that ping pong between concurrent events. Though linear in its chronology, time seems to move differently for Newton than for the Terrestrial characters as he passively observes regimes rise and fall and the few humans he comes to care about grow old and wither, while he is trapped in temporal stasis.
After seeing the BBC documentary Cracked Actor, which followed Bowie’s Diamond Dogs tour of America, Roeg couldn’t see anyone else playing the part of Thomas Jerome Newton. Bowie’s lack of experience as an actor, as well as his lack of previous exposure to movie-goers proved a significant asset to the film’s effect. He truly does seem to occupy a different plane of existence from the other (more seasoned) actors. His slender, embryonic frame, pale skin and bizarrely toned hair go a long way to suggest someone who is trying to look human, but is just not completely formed. Bowie always said that he thoroughly trusted and gave himself over completely to Roeg, and the result is a captivating performance from one of the most significant cultural figures of the last century.
The excitement begins at 6:30 when you will enjoy one of the best dinners in town, followed by the screening at 7:00. Hope to see you there!
Mother’s is located at 212 SW Stark.