The Man Who Fell To Earth (1976) from Tuna and Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)
We split on this one. Tuna likes it. Scoop kinda likes the first half and admires the imagination and thought that went into the film, but finds the second half very weak and the film to be too long in general.
Tuna's comments in white:
The Man Who Fell to Earth is a Nicolas Roeg film about an alien whose planet is dying from drought. After watching a lot of Earth TV with his family, he decides to visit Earth because it has lots of water. Using the advanced knowledge of his planet, he writes several patentable ideas, and forms a huge conglomerate, placing Buck Henry in charge. As his company builds, he acquires more and more expert help, including Rip Torn, a science professor who spent most of his time bedding coeds before the job came. Only Clark and Torn know his true identity.
Bowie, now worth hundreds of millions, eventually announces that all company assets will be redirected into a space program. He is about to take off, when the government seizes his assets, and puts him in protective custody, where he becomes isolated from both human company and contact with his own people. The story, like much of Roeg's work, is about someone living alone in a strange society, and dealing with loneliness. Except for David Bowie, everyone in the film ages because it takes place over several years, so Bowie gradually grows apart from the humans he had known, even though he becomes increasingly more human and debauched. His chances of going to his own world get slimmer and slimmer, so he gradually becomes a civilization of one.
The film was shot on location, mostly in New Mexico, but with a largely British crew. Like much of Roeg's work, the story is told with a non-linear time line, and includes a lot of nudity. It was not a box office smash, nor were any of Roeg's other films, but he has never been bothered by his lack of commercial success. Producer Barry Spikings said that if Roeg was offered a script that looked like it had commercial potential, he would turn it down.
On the other hand, The Man Who Fell To Earth was a real achievement, and somewhat ahead of its time, although the uncut version is a very long watch. Other, shorter cuts exist, but I understand that they are not worth seeing. Even uncut, the viewer needs to work to keep up with it, and evidently the censored versions make no sense at all. Roeg's imagery, as usual, was wonderful, which helped the 140 minutes pass pleasantly.
I am giving this a C+ with the warning that it is not for everyone.
Scoop's comments in yellow:
I am absolutely in that group of people Tuna referred to - the people for whom it is NOT. I need to get the special edition and read that screenplay, and maybe I'll figure out the second half of the movie.
I don't know if I like any of Roeg's idiosyncratic films. He specializes in misdirection, indirection, ambiguity and long discussions, none of which are among my favorite narrative techniques. He does have some plusses: his photography is always excellent, and he often manages to persuade famous women to remove their clothing for very long stretches of time. Castaway is that film in which Amanda Donohoe is naked throughout. Walkabout is the film in which Jenny Agutter is naked throughout. Full Body Massage is the film in which Mimi Rogers .... well, I guess you get the point. Offsetting Roeg's obsession with nudity and his gift for superlative imagery, are some serious disadvantages: his films are almost always way too long for the material he has to work with, his scripts are sometimes so off and inscrutable as to be gibberish, and many scenes are so static and talky that it's virtually impossible to stay awake when the actresses are dressed. In some cases, his films are so soporific that it isn't even possible to stay awake when beautiful women are naked.
Roeg had a truly strange career as a director. Perhaps he deliberately avoided commercial success during some very short period in the early 70s, as indicated in Tuna's review, but he eventually made some of the least meritorious and most completely commercial crap imaginable. He made that preposterous Samson and Delilah movie with Liz Hurley as Delila. Yeah, I'm sure he did that because it appealed to his delicate aesthetic sensibilities. He also made Full Body Massage, which basically consists of Mimi Rogers getting naked while Bryan Brown rubs her body. Of course, he made that complete crap late in his career, when his complete unbankability had painted him into a corner where he had no choices other than to direct no-budget claptrap or retire.
Roeg began as a cinematographer and did that for many years, never directing a movie before he was 40. In fact, he was a top-notch cinematographer who worked with John Schlesinger, David Lean, Richard Lester, and Francois Truffaut, to name a few pretty fair directors. When he first broke free and started directing, Roeg was wearing both hats, and produced two visually stunning movies: Mick Jagger in "Performance" and then Agutter in "Walkabout." Then he did the highly-respected "Don't Look Now" with Julie Christie. Three movies, three critical successes. So he was a budding genius, right? Wrong. He had consistently lost money and moved steadily down the ladder. His next film was the beautifully filmed Man Who Fell to Earth. Unfortunately, several scenes were unnecessary, the ending of the movie dragged on forever with nothing additional to say, and the whole thing cost too much, was too long, and delivered too little. The studios took the film out of Roeg's hands and trimmed it by 22 minutes for theatrical release, but neither version really makes much sense in the second half.
His career was down the tubes at that point, but not so far down that he was unable to recover. In four years someone was willing to take a chance on him again, and he delivered "Bad Timing: A Sensual Obsession." This, again, was visually impressive but this time the entire movie was nonsensical, not just the second half. Roeg seemed to like musician/actors, but he had been going downhill there, too. He started with Mick Jagger, then dropped to David Bowie, and finally to Art Garfunkel in "Bad Timing".
Well, there's no sense in chronicling the entire decline. Within a decade he had fallen to directing Liz Hurley as Delilah. After that, he was basically through. As I write this, he has not directed a theatrical film in ten years, but he is poised for a comeback at age 78 with a project entitled Adina, starring Neve Campbell.
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