Dir. Nicolas Roeg
Starring David Bowie, Rip Torn, Buck Henry, Candy Clark
When a trusted source first recommended Nicolas Roeg's DON'T LOOK NOW by saying it was the scariest movie he had ever seen and had the best sex scene he'd ever seen, I suspected I was about to find a new favorite. I was not disappointed. And yet somehow I never really followed up on Roeg's filmography. Yes, I saw WALKABOUT somewhere, and eventually saw PERFORMANCE (co-directed by even crazier Donald Cammell) but I never undertook the kind of systematic study that Roeg clearly merits from DON'T LOOK NOW alone. In fact, it appears he's made a dozen films on his own, one as recently as 2007. But of course, it was his classic bit of 70s weirdness with David Bowie that first drew my attention, so let's start there.
THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH is called science fiction (
Basically, its kind of fun to enjoy the innocence of a time when someone thought you could get people to take seriously the idea that Bowie's home world looks like a bunch of mannequins wrapped in tin foil living in wigwams with wings in the desert and put that image in the middle of a serious, dark dramatic film.
And you know what? You CAN take it seriously, because the filmmakers are good enough that they convey to you how serious they find it. Their genuine lack of modern cynicism and been-there-done-that weariness is infectious, and makes their ambition to try new things honestly feel way deeper and more effective than would be possible now that we know better. Like those corny scene transitions with the on-and-off cuts in EASY RIDER. Everyone loves that shit about the movie, but has anyone ever tried it in anything else, ever? Of course not, because actually it's pointless, distracting, and ugly. But it’s still fun to watch someone try it so optimistically, so hopeful that they're on to something big.
Anyway, if you can step back and allow yourself to enter a world of 70s hedonistic innocence, the movie is pretty great.
There is a story somewhere in the middle of all the style and narrative experiments --
In fact, the whole thing is vague and surreal enough that you might even argue that there's some ambiguity about exactly what's really happening. There’s perhaps enough evidence to suggest that maybe
Ultimately, it’s a film about not being able to go home again – whether you’re E.T. or just a lonely, smart, impossibly thin British weirdo. We’re already so alienated that it takes an actual alien to try and articulate that deep, crushing loneliness seem explicit or worth remarking upon. Roeg has an unusual gift for finding the unseen costs to the soul and making them seem heartbreaking all over again. Here, he cleverly disguises an examination of universal youthful alienation in a story which seems safely removed from our own experience until the exact moment we find ourselves experiencing that all-too-familiar pain of feeling like a stranger in an inexplicable world. Like the prime years for feeling this pain, the movie can be unfocused, dramatic, ostentatious, excessive, superficial, mercurial, and completely convinced of its own special genius. But that doesn’t make its pain any less real, nor does it blunt its gut impact in the end.
Like all of Roeg’s films, it’s a challenging, occasionally excessive work. But it’s inarguably the work of a unique master, and well worth the effort for anyone who appreciates this sort of thing.
Also: [SPOILER] to my knowledge it’s the only 70’s film where two unknown doughy middle-aged guys in business suits show up to put on sparkly gold helmets and throw an old man and his body-building gay partner out a 50th story window. So it has that going for it too.