At the end of the day it’s all about Bowie.
Nicholas Roeg’s iconic tale is based on a sci-fi classic novel of existential loneness in which an alien – Bowie – arrives on Earth with a plan to save his dying homeward. Using his superior knowledge to build a technology empire, his plans quickly unravel as he succumbs to addiction and despair.
Told in jouncing narrative leaps, the film plays out like some hippy concept album full of half-formed messages about the environment, capitalism, and what it means to be human. Back in 1976, the studios were pretty unimpressed at the result and refused to pay for the finished film. Scenes showing drug abuse, alcoholism, and sex added to its problems and, on release, it barely managed to scrape an X Certificate.
However this is a film that’s always divided critics. Lauded and lambasted in equal measure, it was very much a product of its time: avant guard, occasionally ponderous, and experimental with a big 1970s E. Which makes it all the more curious that, 40 years after its release, this beautiful, messy melange should suddenly seem so relevant. But then, good films are like fine wines. They stand the test of time, developing a maturity and a flavour all of their own.
StudioCanal’s new 4k restoration, which comes with full film-maker approval, helps of course – bringing the striking visuals back into line with the original print. The Collector’s Edition also includes a disc of new and vintage interviews, which puts the production in context.
The film’s messages still ring true, while Roeg’s story telling is a breath of fresh air in a world where movies making seems increasingly paint-by-numbers.
But at the end of the day it’s all about Bowie. Bowie, playing a role he could have been born to. Gaunt, luminescently pale and painfully vulnerable, he steals every single scene. In 1976, Bowie’s performance confirmed his status as one of the decade’s most unique artists. Today it stands as a monument to a talent whose loss is still sending out shockwaves.
Love it or hate it, The Man Who Fell To Earth reminds us that’s there’s more than one way to make a film. And, sometimes, art that requires a little concentration is one of life’s greatest joys.