The Man Who Fell to Earth

Year: 1976

Production: British Lion / A Cinema V Release

Director: Nicholas Roeg

Starring: David Bowie, Rip Torn, Candy Clark, Buck Henry

Screenwriter: Paul Mayersberg

Based on The Man Who Fell to Earth (1963) by Walter Tevis

145 minutes, often cut to 138 minutes; first US showing cut to 118 minutes

In this UK film set in the USA, the clear-out narrative of Tevis' evocative novel - about an alien who comes to Earth to build a spacecraft large enough to transport his native race away from his own dying world - is replaced by a nonlinear structure that, in the familiar Roeg manner, shifts backwards and forwards in time, reflecting the psychic time travel of which the alien is capable.

The film is visually strong (Roeg was earlier a fine cameraman) but has been regarded by some as wilfully obscure, in part because of the rather literary complexity of its allusions (many to the painting of the fall of Icarus by Pieter Brueghel the Elder [circa 1525-1569], some to the Fall of Man) and the symbolism (occasionally heavy-handed) of its visual juxtapositions and imagery. All becomes much clearer on second viewing. Some sequences, including that showing serried ranks of tv sets with which the lonely alien attempts to barricade himself from direct human experience, are very powerful indeed. The theme of an alien having his identity effectively stolen form him by us - the reverse of the usual - is remorselessly followed through. The Man Who Fell to Earth has worn very well and is regarded as a sf classic.

The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction

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