For “The Man Who Fell To Earth,” based on the novel by Walter Tevis (best known as the author of "The Hustler"), director Nicolas Roeg and writer Paul Mayersberg played around with film narrative, opting for a less linear, more impressionistic adaptation, with wild editing and imagery that blends psychedelic colours, optical effects and camera trickery (some recalling Leni Riefenstahl's "Diving" sequence in "Olympia"), and an eclectic sound track.
Roeg, who had moved from being a top cameraman in England to director, had worked his way up through England's film industry, while Mayersberg took the Truffaut route as critic-and-founder of "Movie Magazine," in England. "Hollywood The Haunted House," published in 1967 (which is thoroughly worth hunting down, by the way), recounts Mayersberg's travels through Tinsel Town, meeting famous film veterans, and the observations of America through the eyes of a rather critical Britisher - a position that's also quite present in "The Man Who Fell To Earth," as Bowie's Thomas Jerome Newton, attired in a seaman's coat, arrives as alien immigrant, and works his way to the top in corporate America.
Though perhaps better known as the author of the recent film "Croupier," this was Mayersberg's first produced screenplay, and what better way to enter filmland than with an audacious, lengthy and controversial movie (with graphic nudity), starring one of the top rock stars of the seventies. The first film fully financed by a British company (British Lion) to shoot in America was originally to have Peter O'Toole in the title role, but Roeg saw a short film with Bowie and felt the enigmatic musician might bring a special kind of exotica to the project (along with a legion of cash-ready Bowie fans).
"Watching The Alien" is a pretty succinct featurette, with many of the film's principal members - director Roeg, executive producer Si Litvinoff, co-star (and still ageless) Candy Clark, costume designer May Routh, production designer Brian Eatwell, editor Graeme Clifford, and cinematographer Anthony Richmond - and there's a nice secondary theme of the largely English crew shooting in America, plus various anecdotes regarding David Bowie. Like the featurette for Anchor Bay's "The Complete Musketeers" - which also features Eatwell - there's bits of production trivia, and comments on the film's release in Europe, including the shorter version made for the United States (which, according to author Neil Sinyard in "The Films of Nicolas Roeg," was accompanied by 'explanation sheets', so audiences had help with the plotting).
Bowie's original agreement included writing the score, but his concert appearances and his role was already gobbling up much time, and his early musical ideas were ultimately nixed by Roeg (though Bowie reshaped some of the material in the album "Station To Station"). Roeg subsequently engaged John Phillips as consultant, using ultra-cool jazz-pop material by Stomu Yamashta. The DVD's sound mix is a good simulation of a surround environment, with Yamashta's bass-friendly music being a major draw.
The THX mastered anamorphic transfer is very clean, preserving the film's scope ratio and maintaining stable colours for the acid trip-like interludes (some used as background textures for each DVD's menu). The biographies for Roeg and Bowie include the usual colourful quotations that form engaging narratives, a regular and solid extra on Anchor Bay's special editions; and there's an interesting gallery of stills and trailers.
Decades after the film's release, the publicity materials reveal the artistry of the original graphic campaign for each poster, and the trailers offer a mix of music-only and narration versions for the U.S. release (subversively billed as the ultimate trippy experience), and more traditional trailers with dialogue (mostly for TV and European campaigns); in many of these, Bowie is billed as "Phenomenon of Our Time" with gravel-voiced, deadpan narration, alongside the poetically nonsensical "A Cosmic Circus About The Mystery Of The Universe, and the Mystery of Love."
Something we all knew anyways, right?
© 2003 Mark R. Hasan