Artwork by Charlotte Southall
The stars looked very different that day. I was shattered along with the rest of the world upon hearing the devastating news that David Bowie had passed away on the 10th January this year. I sat in pensive half-darkness that morning listening to Lazarus, a song I’d only heard for the first time the night before. The defiant, haunting beauty of that track struck me so deeply, I obsessively played it over and over again; the heart-breaking realisation that it was him saying goodbye slowly sinking in…
I started watching every documentary and interview I could get my hands on and whilst exploring his film catalogue, I stumbled across a movie I’d been meaning to see for ages, The Man Who Fell To Earth (1976). Upon actually seeing it, my first impression was that it was a very passionate film, sometimes quite indulgent, but overall really unique. Despite the fact that 2016 marks forty years since the film’s original release, it still maintains this sharp, very current atmosphere. It’s like a romantic Sci-Fi fable, it has a melancholy, timeless feel –a dystopic elegy to dreamers, a critique on Capitalism and how it’s underlying vices can twist fantasies into sordid nightmares. It tells the story of the mysterious Thomas Jerome Newton (Bowie), an alien who’s come to Earth to obtain water for his dying home planet. Along the way, he encounters various human specimens and gradually becomes engulfed within a world of booze, sex and corrupt business greed, consequently descending into grotesque addiction and depression.
Bowie was perfect in his debut leading role, never failing to look effortlessly cool in an overcoat against the dry, boiling backdrop of New Mexico. It’s hard to imagine anyone else in the part – no one could ever come close to encapsulating that exotic allure that Bowie had in the seventies. With the momentous first appearance of the beautifully androgynous ‘Ziggy Stardust’ in 1972, he rocked the world; a sonic alien equipped with a shock of red hair, a crooked smile and suave acidic charm. He was charismatic and somehow also vulnerable – just what director Nicholas Roeg was looking for. Even though Bowie had retired Ziggy by the time the film went into production and adopted a new character, the ‘Thin White Duke’, he still had the aura of a ‘fragile alien in a new climate’.
You could say that he wasn’t so much a chameleon, but more a magpie. Bowie described himself as a collector, someone who could take on the guises of various people and had the ability to adopt different personalities. He was able to embody every emotional experience and quirk of the human condition. In The Man Who Fell To Earth, he was almost unattainable, playing this stunning unearthly creature, yet it’s so easy to connect with him – particularly I think for teenagers or anyone going through some kind of isolating experience. I think the idea of having to adapt to a new place or situation is extremely relatable – feeling alone and daunted by things that seem increasingly beyond your control. The central feeling of loneliness and the inability to connect with others that runs throughout the film is what I think makes the character so ironically universal; despite not being human, the obstacles that Thomas Jerome Newton is confronted with are so easy to identify with. This is why I think The Man Who Fell To Earth is so pivotal within Bowie’s career, as the alien character he portrays so acutely mirrors his own enigmatic legacy. Even though Bowie is so synonymous with the otherworldly, his music always rang so true – he inspired a generation to celebrate their eccentricities, not hone in on or dissect them. He embraced the bizarre and hailed the outsiders, those on the fringes, as beautiful rebels.
Revisiting The Man Who Fell To Earth on its 40th Anniversary is the perfect way to commemorate Bowie. A man who roamed the planet with a glamorous, mystical swagger, he illuminated the greys of our world; bejewelling our day to day adventures, our most treasured memories with his kaleidoscopic sound and vision. Starman, artist, legend – an unparalleled genius.
A salute to Ziggy, with all the love in the world from a girl hooked to the silver screen.
By Angel Lloyd
Angel Lloyd is 18 and lives in Newcastle though is currently studying at University of York. A graduate of Northern Stars Documentary Academy and the BFI Screenwriting Academy, she is known amongst family and friends as a film fanatic, her infinite list of favourite movies including: Rear Window, Across the Universe, Pulp Fiction and Silver Linings Playbook. Stuck on an island, she would be content with her two favourite albums, T Rex’s The Slider and The Beatles’ Revolver. Whilst making short films, designing movie posters, blogging at gentlysleeping.tumblr.com , film reviewing at fine-wines-available-to-humanity.tumblr.com and occasionally quoting Withnail, she also finds the time to obsess over Breaking Bad, Sweeney Todd and Baz Luhrmann films.