Tuesday, January 19, 2016
Falling To Earth!
One of the peculiar ironies of a famous person passing is that a lot of their work will get some attention it might not have gotten otherwise. I doubt without the recent clamor over the death of David Bowie that anyone would've dusted off The Man Who Fell to Earth and shown it on television. But since this 1975 movie is one infamous sci-fi outing I've never seen before, I gave it a go.
Wow! I had some inkling of the nature of the movie, but it's far stranger than I expected. The narrative is downright difficult to decipher and the imagery is often grotesque. It treads along like a dream, disjointed but with a vague sense of some hidden purpose.
The story is a simple enough one. An alien comes to Earth to get some of our bountiful water to return to his own world which is without sufficient supplies, in order to save the planet and his own family who he left behind. To accomplish this he uses his scientific skills to arrange for patents with which he mobilizes great wealth and political power to construct a spaceship. He is stopped just as he's getting ready to leave and is held prisoner and tormented by the government with a series of tests.
There's a whole lot here about the folly of modern society and its inability to apprehend and appreciate the natural bounty we take for granted. Some of the best scenes come early when the alien, named Newton, drinks so hungrily from the water he finds everywhere. Also early on the character of Mary Lou, a hotel maid who helps Newton and who eventually becomes his lover is fun to listen to and follow as she tries to make some sense of her man's weird ways.
The movie though is overwrought with other characters who are less well defined and who lack motivation or every meaning as they take up space in front of the camera. There are long conversations which appear to be about nothing much which occupy way too much of the movie.
I guess we're supposed to be wowed by David Bowie's freakish looks, but his not-completely adult slender body (while strange) combined with his peculiar sense of outlandish fashion don't communicate alien to me so much as poseur. His acting is pretty dreadful most of the time and he can hardly hold his place in scenes with tireless scene chewers like Buck Henry and Rip Torn.
Sadly the movie withers slowly and steadily as it lumbers on and on relentlessly to and ending with absolutely a whimper. I wish it were better, or even more interesting, and finally maybe just shorter, but it isn't.
Let me take this moment to comment, as have so many others, on the career of David Bowie. He was a lightning rod in his early days for those who aspired for the bizarre and the peculiar. To be honest I was never much of a fan of his music which seemed mostly to me reasonably solid pop, the kind of stuff that despite his androgynous antics played well on AM as well as it did on the slightly more dangerous FM stations. Bowie was the kind of rebel the powers-that-are like, one who is interested in success for all those around him. That's not to say Bowie was a sell-out, he wasn't since to my mind he made no claims as a revolutionary. Those seemed to be things put on him by others for most part; he seemed merely to want to stand out as any performer ought. As an actor he was never more than mediocre (in the stuff I've seen), though I've heard many say otherwise. He had distinctive looks and was cast I suspect for those, more akin to a model than a for true actor. I despair finding a part in which he did much beyond the necessary and usually he was sub-par. He was a remarkable intellect by all accounts and a savvy businessman, a guy who seemed to know how to stay in charge of his affairs. That's no small feat in the industries in which he made his way.