The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976)
Directed by Nicolas Roeg
Written by Walter Tevis, Paul Mayersberg
Produced by Michael Deeley, Barry Spikings, John Peverall, Si Litvinoff
Starring David Bowie, Rip Torn, Candy Clark, Buck Henry, Bernie Casey, Jackson D. Kane, Rick Riccardo
Not too many motion pictures shot without explicitly pornographic intent are both as figuratively and literally masturbatory as Roeg’s ponderous, oversexualized mistreatment of Tevis’ tragic fable wherein a benign extraterrestrial (Bowie) arrives on earth to fetch an aqueous amplitude for the dying civilization of his desert homeworld, only to be undone by estrangement, alcoholism, governmental wiles and a preoccupancy with television. Mayersberg’s every alteration opens yet another in a gaping plenitude of plot holes prominent by parabolic standards, each a cheap goad for a script eschewing nearly all of the novel’s thematic depth in favor of exoterically exploitative schmaltz — and this is extolled as a cinematic landmark of intellectual science fiction! Tevis’ alcoholic apercus are pretermitted, as are the recherche burdens of an industrialist’s struggle to sustain independence in a corporate culture, and the incapacity of love across an interspecific divide. Mayersberg and Roeg instead settled for trendy, hypocritical denunciation of commercial consumption while subjecting their audiences to pointlessly protracted prurience and tacky effects. The sophomoric result is an arrant adulteration reducing the reputedly brilliant, otherworldly protagonist to a simple and susceptible boor without faculties of sense or strategy. Interpreting the persecuted, frigidly disaffected alien as much an embodiment of his usual themes as any of his musical characters, Bowie’s pluperfect in the lead, the pioneering androgyne curiously convincing as an offworlder, apocryphally addled by his famed addictions. Casey, Henry and especially Torn are always reliable character players; as the enterprising extraterrestrial’s respective corporate antagonist, attorney, and technician/confidant, they cope well with Mayersberg’s leaden dialogue and embarrassingly libidinous scenarios, their director observably, idiosyncratically unmindful of the talent at his disposal. Clark’s believably unsophisticated as Bowie’s provincial love interest, but too vexing and unsexy to be an adequate ladylove for a tellurian, much less a spaceman. Notwithstanding some amusing moments and the eclat of its protean rock star, this maladapted pap fittingly follows Roeg’s dismally risible version of Lady Browning’s Don’t Look Now: another select story stripped of substance supplanted by its auteur’s maladroit indulgences in ostentatious slow motion, to cult and critical acclaim. Would that more viewers read.
Instead, watch The Day the Earth Stood Still.

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