I'm feeling a little symmetry across the month, here at the end. Third from the last, '70s-style relaxed pace sci-phi, from otherwise respected auteurs, yet no love from S&S? Sounds like our third from the start.
The Man Who Fell to Earth
dir. Nicholas Roeg. 1976, U.K.
Roger Ebert's 1976 movie review ... 2011 movie review
1993 Criterion essay ... 2005 Criterion essay
OOP Criterion DVD from Amazon [OOP CC Blu-Ray]
Watch via Netflix / Amazon Instant / iTunes
The Man Who Fell to Earth trailer (1976)
There was also a more traditional trailer, without the William Shatner groove. And a 35th anniversary 2011 re-release one.
Mary Lou: I don't understand how you can watch them all at the same time. You know, Tommy, you're a freak. I don't mean that unkindly. I like freaks. That's why I like you.
Buck Henry! Rip Torn!! ... and some long-forgotten folkie from the '60s. Maybe the guy from the Monkees? The parable of arable land.
I think I like this movie more than most people. Everything about it seems so schizophrenic. The tone jumps around between Stranger in a Strange Land sci-fi, lotsa grindhouse sexploitation, sociological essay, Five Easy Pieces artfilm, corporate intrigue, laconic Western, space/nature trip, and maybe a half-dozen others. Bowie's Newton shifts from strutting cock-o'-the-walk to a basket case that's been squeezed from 5-Dimensions into three, with a range described by a non-Euclidean parabola bisecting madness itself. The film's music includes Roy Orbison, Eric Satie, Joni Mitchell, Holst, and Steely Dan.
The movie starts with splashdown, stumbling down a mountain, almost getting run over, an aggressive bouncy house, a leering drunk, an asymmetrical cash transaction, a major-league thirst-slaking, farm animal transport seen through two-tone alien eyes... and on and on. Newton likes TV and booze, but can't stand elevators - nor sushi samurai kabuki violence. He builds a fortune on some ridiculous technologies. A camera that immediately shows your pictures? Preposterous! A book with paintings and poetry? Ludicrous!! (Icarus reference? slightly clever.) Rip Torn's professor chases freshmen girls on the funky campus, but rails against computers and their reliability. Bah!! Wait, now he'll get some "mind libido" and faith in himself.
We get some extinct '70s airlines, and an Olde English hymn. The good old days of train travel, and an alien homeworld in decline. A line-of-sight mining-era time intersection, and a big-ass Caddy with a phone. The covers of both Station to Station (1976) and Low (1977) come from this film. Down the stretch, everything starts falling apart even moreso. Bernie Casey finally shows up, and then they... I mean: "The problem with this corporation is that it is technologically overstimulated..." To which: "Then you must go further. They have to take the wider view... We're flexible. Something, uh - elastic... We're determining a social ecology. This is modern America, and we're going to keep it that way." Modern America, yes - in all its post-Watergate, stagflationary, swinging-'70s debauchery.
All is become frenzy. Rip Torn does heat photography, and psychic emanations transmit to home, alien trampoline gymnasticsex. First there is a spaceship, then there is no spaceship... Terry Southern is there! Jim Lovell!! Buck Henry fell to earth, Newton is kidnapped and put in an autumn-forest rec room with leaves on the grassy floor. Scenario aligns to parallel The Third Man (1949, S&S #73), meanwhile it's playing onscreen. Gunsexplay, science experiments, a laid-back escape, and years later (maybe?) the alien-in-hiding releases an album. I think his family is dead back home - the bar cuts him off. And that is a '70s movie ending!
Afterwards I read this extensive essay, which provides a much closer reading of the various obscure themes. I was thinking more of how the narrative reflected the dissolution of Newton's mission (much like Capt. Willard's) - so I missed stuff like the intersecting arcs of the main and supporting characters (down & up), or the specific praxis of earthly temptations.