Sunday, 17 January 2016

L.J. SPENCE'S STARTING POINTS: THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH

L.J. SPENCE'S STARTING POINTS

62. THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH (1976. dir. Nicholas Roeg)

17/01/2016


It has been a week, and I am still recovering from having heard of the death of David Bowie. As Lauren Laverne put it on her BBC Radio 6 music show last Monday, it is the loss of someone's viewpoint on the world that hits the hardest - that this level of art can no longer continue as the inspiration for it has gone. Bowie was also an auto-didact, continuing to learn about the world even as he made his impact on it, changing him as much as his art changed.

To that end, it is unsurprising that Nicholas Roeg, in casting Bowie as the alien Thomas Jerome Newton, told him that the character would stay with him for long after principal photography ended. It did, turning into the dislocation and public statements of the "Thin White Duke" - it didn't help that Bowie could continue to wear the clothes he chose to wear in the film - and may have hastened his move to Berlin, purging the drug-fuelled paranoia of Los Angeles, and making the album trilogy of "Low," "Heroes," and "Lodger."

The regret with "The Man Who Fell to Earth" is that Bowie couldn't keep it together enough at the time to write the music for it, as originally intended - that job eventually went to John Phillips, of The Mamas and The Papas, a very different choice, if not the complete opposite. 

The plot of the film concerns how Newton arrives, patents items from his home planet, becomes rich and powerful, but is desecrated and imprisoned upon being discovered to be an alien. 

In thinking about this, it brings to mind what I perceive happens when anything new comes to human consciousness, particularly in the media - refugees, transgender people, the European Union, anything you like. One group will see an opportunity to reflect upon, re-evaluate, and expand their society; the other group will see anything new, however small, as a threat, not to be approved, trusted or believed under any circumstances. 

This film's plot is definitely influenced by the latter of these, for it has to be in order to work. Bowie had talked of "a repulsive need to be something more than human," and it feels that, had he not thought that, we may not have heard of him - the most effective way for art to comment on humanity is to speak from outside it. Science fiction is more than a case of loving the alien, it is seeing what we make of ourselves.



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