The first time I saw The Man Who Fell to Earth was on Cinema Six, a post-The National late-night film on CBC Winnipeg sometime back in the 80s. After it was over, I couldn’t shake the freaky feeling it left behind and I spent the rest of the night staring at the ceiling, thinking about Thomas Jerome Newton and his doomed waterless planet. I was also very thirsty.
When director Nicholas Roeg cast for the lead role, the only person he wanted was David Bowie, who was less than two years away from retiring Ziggy Stardust, Bowie’s doomed spaceman character. At this point in his life, Bowie thought he was Ziggy. Coked out most of the time and existing on a diet of peppers and milk, Bowie’s weight dropped to less than 90 pounds. He carried a telescope with him on tour so he could scan the heavens for signs of the alien mothership he was certain was monitoring his movements.
Bowie kept it together for the shoot in New Mexico, although the whole haul of hardcover books he brought with him created some luggage problems. When it came to being in front of the camera, he really didn’t know what was going on. Bowie is quoted in Wikipedia:
I just threw my real self into that movie as I was at that time. It was the first thing I’d ever done. I was virtually ignorant of the established procedure [of making movies], so I was going a lot on instinct, and my instinct was pretty dissipated. I just learned the lines for that day and did them the way I was feeling. It wasn’t that far off. I actually was feeling as alienated as that character was. It was a pretty natural performance. … a good exhibition of somebody literally falling apart in front of you. I was totally insecure with about 10 grams [of cocaine] a day in me. I was stoned out of my mind from beginning to end.
TEN grams of gak a day? Christ.
A 4K restoration was started on the film last year. Work is complete and the newly clean-up version will debut in theatres on September 9 as part of a 40th anniversary re-release. I’d imagine it’ll get showings in North America, too. Here’s the original trailer from 1976.