5. THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH
(1976, Directed by Nicolas Roeg, Written by Paul Mayersberg, Based on the novel of the same name by Walter Tevis)
The Man Who Fell To Earth is not actually a Bowie biopic, but in many ways it is the definitive Bowie film and the definitive film about the alien quality of much music and many musicians – the sensation that they are somehow different, or “other”, to the rest of us, and that that otherness is what allows them to access and even create the music of the spheres.
Bowie plays Thomas Jerome Newton, a very human-like alien who comes to Earth to try to find some way of sourcing the water that his home planet needs to stave off an apocalyptic drought. Using his “alien” knowledge, he becomes an inventor, a multi-millionaire and eventually a pop star, using samples of his own people’s language and music to create an album that becomes a best-seller, even as Newton fails in his primary task of saving his planet from destruction.
It is almost impossible to imagine The Man Who Fell To Earth without Bowie as the lead. He, of course, had already played an “alien” on stage, in the form of Ziggy Stardust, but as Newton he went even further, becoming simultaneously utterly unearthly (especially when his actual physiology is revealed to others, in particular the woman he marries) and all-too-human, especially in his addiction to alcohol and television.
The only real deficiency of The Man Who Fell To Earth is that not only did Bowie himself fail to produce a soundtrack to accompany it (as he and the movie’s producers had originally hoped) but nobody did: no official score has ever been released. Nevertheless, in its use of existing music, not least Holst’s “Mars: Bringer of War”, the film reinforces the sense of music itself being somehow otherworldly, as if it had been brought to earth millennia before by a visitor such as Bowie’s Newton.