Howdy all you Supercultists out there on the interwebz! I’m Bad Movie Professor Cameron Coker (BS in “David Bowie” with a minor in “Films that are better on drugs”) and I’ll be posting my hype-tacular speeches every week along with some long lost speeches from past Supercult Shows!
This week Supercult does a line of coke, puts on a pair of contact lenses, and tries to patent digital cameras after watching The Man Who Fell to Earth.
In a far out galaxy on a far out world, drought ravages the native population. Thomas Jerome Newton is a humanoid alien who travels to Earth on a mission to take water back to his home planet. To do so, Newton raises funds by patenting the advanced technology from his world and creating a technology conglomerate. But with notoriety comes suspicion and isolation and Newton’s quirks soon attract the interest of some very dangerous people. This is a story of friends and strangers, of love and hate, and a Man Who Fell to Earth!
Released in 1976, The Man Who Fell to Earth is a British sci-fi film based on the 1963 novel of the same name by Walter Tevis. Critics praised Tevis’ novel as a parable of the Fifties and the Cold War and for its themes of existentialism, loneliness, and alcoholism. The film by comparison is as much a product of the idiosyncratic 70s as the book was a product of the disenchanted 60s. In contrast to other 70s sci-fi like supecult classics Westworld, Silent Running, and Starcrash, The Man Who Fell to Earth focuses on character and implied ideas rather than flashy special effects and obvious plot twists. It’s an exploration of science fiction as an art form that presents a hallucinatory vision of the effects of profound alienation.
That being said, this movie is absolutely bonkers. Directed by British film veteran and cinematographer Nicolas Roeg whose credits put him on the sets of films like Doctor Zhivago, Lawrence of Arabia, and the original 1967 Casino Royale, The Man Who Fell to Earth is so mind boggling and incomprehensible that even Google has trouble translating it. It’s about an alien who comes to earth on a mission but gets distracted and decides to get drunk and watch TV all day instead. So it’s about the American dream basically!
If the premise wasn’t weird enough, the film stars none other than the Thin White Duke himself, David Bowie. The Man Who Fell to Earth was first starring role, having played only bit parts in small productions thus far, nearly a decade before his comparatively refined appearance in Jim Henson’s Labyrinth. Though other bizarre musical stars like Mick Jagger were considered for the role, Bowie is seemingly factory-made for the role of the pale, effeminate, and drug-addled extraterrestrial. Costume designer May Routh even said that David Bowie was so thin that some of the outfits he was fitted with were boys’ clothes.
Bowie himself admits to having absolutely no f*$&-ing idea what he was doing. In interviews with Rolling Stone and Movieline Bowie said “I’m so pleased I made that [movie], but I didn’t really know what was being made at all…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”
At one point Bowie was sidelined for a few days after drinking “bad milk.” Bowie saw “some gold liquid swimming around in shiny swirls inside the glass”. According to the ‘Bowie Golden Years’ website, Bowie is “still to this day unsure of what actually happened. No trace of any foreign element was detected in tests though there were six witnesses who said they had seen the strange matter in the bottom of the glass.“ Because of this, there are some hidden scenes where Candy Clark, who plays the female lead, Mary-Lou, portrays Bowie’s character with a large black hat strategically pulled low over her face.
The production was plagued with other eerie setbacks including film cameras inexplicably jamming and, for one scene shot in the desert, having to contend with a group of Hells Angels who were camping nearby. The coked up Bowie reportedly felt the whole location had ‘very bad Karma’..whatever the heck that means.
But who in their right mind could blame Bowie for the stupidity of this film? Brian Smith, long-time poster maker for the Supercult Show, asserts that David Bowie is the most beautiful man/woman/alien/popstar forever and ever, all day, for 100 years, dot com www dot David Bowie is hot forever and ever 100 times and despite the drugs, the biker gangs, the inexperience, and the milk, David Bowie said that he had fun working on the film. Bowie has referenced the film throughout his musical career in song lyrics and album covers, and has promoted it first and foremost amongst all his other screen appearances. In 2013 the nearly 70-year-old Bowie shocked fans with plans for a new stage musical called Lazarus inspired by the original 1963 Novel featuring songs written by Bowie specifically for the show!
The Man Who Fell to Earth was a critical success. Colic Covert of the Minneapolis Star Tribune called it “more poignant (and infinitely bleaker) portrait of extraterrestrial homesickness than “E.T.”” and Joshua Rothkopf of Time Out called it, “ The most intellectually provocative genre film of the 1970s.” Roger Ebert gave the re-release of the film 3 out of 4 stars writing that the film is, “”so preposterous and posturing, so filled with gaps of logic and continuity, that if it weren’t so solemn there’d be the temptation to laugh aloud.“ but also bemoaning how “projects this ambitious are no longer possible in the mainstream movie industry.” Unfortunately, the highbrow praise did not save it at the box office. With a budget of $1.5 million and a box office of just over $100,000, The Man Who Fell to Earth was a colossal financial failure.
Since it’s release however, the film has become a cult hit and has been rediscovered by film enthusiasts and David Bowie fans alike. The Man Who Fell to Earth has a 6.7 on IMDB and an impressive 86% on Rotten Tomatoes and is an official part of the Criterion Collection right alongside other Supercult classics like Armageddon, The Rock, and House.
It’s pretentious, it’s weird, it’s hilarious, and it’s starring a coked-up pre-Labyrinth David Bowie. What more could you ask?
Grab your Ziggy Stardust make up and your Space Oddity Astroturf.
The Supercult show is proud to present The Man Who Fell to Earth!