A friend recently asked me for some advice on filmmaker Nicolas Roeg. For those that don't know, I'm quite the fan of the man's work and yet, when I suggested starting with the bewildering Performance and just running through 1979's Bad Timing, I hiccuped when it came to recommending his 1976 film, The Man Who Fell to Earth. Even though I remember bits of it from my youth (giving me a preternatural fear of riding in elevators and getting nosebleeds), even as I obsessed over Roeg's oeuvre, this film always left me cold.
Before handing over that block of DVDs, I gave it another chance, starting with the Walter Tevis book first. As I read it, I marveled how different it was from the film. Until I watched the film and realized that it stayed rather faithful to what was on the page (save for casting the lithe Candy Clark in the role of an obese fiftysomething ginhead).
Part of the problem with the film is the nasty cut the studio imposed on the finished film, making an already abstracted story all the more difficult. Or as one commentary puts it, "a mystery with all the clues cut out."Knowing the story helped get over the lumps, but while I still remain lukewarm on the film, there's an astute observation made by Bowie in the commentary about his alien listening to the otherworldly voice of Roy Orbison with all of his televisions on at full blast. With those thick black frames and his black attire housing that tremulous, lonesome, singular voice in a human form, it's an inspired soundtrack choice. And it no doubt resonated with another director, David Lynch, who seems to always reach for Orbison's oeuvre when the scene calls for disquiet, estrangement, and otherworldliness.