Absolute Bowieginners: The Man Who Fell To Earth - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Absolute Bowieginners: The Man Who Fell To Earth

It’s a crash course for the ravers now as Chris Morley takes a look at an oft-neglected part of David Bowie’s artistic output - his appearances as an actor on the big screen.

It’s tempting to suggest that David Bowie's first leading role, as the alien Thomas Jerome Newton in Nicolas Roeg’s 1976 adaptation of Walter Tevis’s 1963 novel The Man Who Fell To Earth didn’t actually represent too big a leap from Ziggy Stardust, his stage persona for a period between 1972 & ’73 - the name inspired by the Legendary Stardust Cowboy aka Norman Carl Odam, Iggy Pop and a local tailor’s shop, Ziggy’s.

Going by Bowie’s own notes there is a degree of overlap between Ziggy & Newton in their shared androgyny and stark environmentalist message - Five Years serving as a warning of how long Earth had left due to a lack of natural resources.
Pushing through the market square
So many mothers sighing
News had just come over
We had five years left to cry in
News guy wept and told us,
Earth was really dying
Cried so much his face was wet
Then I knew he was not lying

Newton, meanwhile, arrives on our little planet seeking water to ship back to his own which is going through a period of drought. To this end he uses his own people’s technology to help him build up enough wealth to pump into the construction of a vehicle suited to the task while leading World Enterprises Corporation. He’s also heading towards a front row seat in what must be the oddest humanities lesson ever committed to film.

Arriving in New Mexico he meets Mary-Lou, almost his polar opposite in that wealth is something she can only dream of while working in a hotel. Nevertheless it is she who introduces him to sex & alcohol as well as attending church in the first three pointers of his learning how we do things down here. In reality of course, the man born David Robert Jones knew precisely what he was doing, certainly when it came to redefining masculinity - his Top Of The Pops performance of Starman often cited as something of a game-changer.

As another David, Hepworth, wrote in Never A Dull Moment
“Everything was primed so that when Ziggy Stardust appeared in June 1972, the market would be ready. All of that investment in outrage and edginess paid off when Bowie appeared on Top of the Pops singing Starman. That was the moment Bowie went above ground and nationwide. The hype may have led us to expect something edgy and challenging.”

But perhaps his real genius lay in wrapping that in a finished product that was brilliantly basic. As Hepworth concluded,
“The record was as simple and hummable a radio hit as you could possibly desire.”

Somewhat ironically television, which had been the means for Bowie to show off his latest reinvention, threatens to become part of Newton’s downfall - too much time spent watching it & an increasing appetite for booze leading to a fight with Mary-Lou and the revelation of his true form which has her running for the hills…

Mary-Lou isn’t the first to learn his secret, though. That honour goes to colleague Dr Nathan Bryce, who is able to reveal it after taking a secret picture of him with an X-ray camera. Nevertheless, Thomas gets on with the construction of his spaceship, but isn’t able to take it on its scheduled launch after he finds himself arrested by the American government, for whom his driver has been monitoring him.

Kept under house arrest in an apartment deep underneath a hotel, he’s experimented on & sedated with yet more of the demon drink! All of which means he can’t return home even after the realisation, following the passage of many a year, that his prison is in effect unlocked & he walks out following a reunion with a much older Mary-Lou, no love lost between the pair.

While he can’t get back out among the stars, he does at least attempt to make a sort of contact by radio via recording alien messages before dying of a combination of alcoholism & depression. In something of a coincidence, Bowie himself later admitted he was using drugs to the extent that he couldn’t actually remember much of the making of the film.
"I'm so pleased I made [The Man Who Fell To Earth], but I didn't really know what was being made at all",

...as he said in a 1983 interview. But he did give as honest a performance as he could, by his own admission.
“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.”

Yet Candy Clark, who played Mary-Lou, remembers things somewhat differently - David apparently having promised Roeg that he would stay clean. And according to her he was...
"...clear as a bell, focused, friendly and professional and leading the team. Look at David: his skin is luminescent. He’s gorgeous, angelic, heavenly. He was absolutely perfect as the man from another planet."

There’s a sense of full circle, too, prior to the Starman leaving Earth for the last time, as one of Bowie's final works prior to his death alongside the Blackstar album was a musical, Lazarus, which revisited Newton & his attempts to return home.

Michael C Hall stepped into Bowie's shoes as Thomas Jerome Newton for the opening night of its first New York production, 7 December 2015, which also served as Bowie’s final public appearance.

Next time out, we’ll be swapping the man who fell to Earth for vampire Bowie, as he takes the role of John Blaylock in The Hunger, the former Ziggy sucking blood into his mi-i-nd, in a roundabout manner!

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