Monday, April 15, 2013

Nicolas Roeg

Give me Rip Torn in any movie, and I'm happy. Give me Rip Torn in a movie cavorting drunkenly with coeds on dirty linens (Coming Apart, Payday), and I'm very happy. Give me Rip Torn in a movie cavorting nude with coeds AND consulting with David Bowie in a room that looks like the inside of a microphone head, and I've achieved movie nirvana. "Are you Lithuanian?" Torn's wary Dr. Nathan Bryce asks of Bowie's billionaire Thomas Jerome Newton. No, he's just an alien. Don't let the Cat People eyes fool you.

Though The Man Who Fell to Earth shares a lot of the same sci-fi DNA with movies like Starman or E.T., Roeg's rendering of similar material couldn't be more foreign, more decidedly adult. Like Spielberg's glow-worm bellied extraterrestrial, Bowie just wants to go home to his family. The similarities end there.

His first priority in landing on Earth is to patent some technologies brought from his home planet with a trifocaled Bucky Henry and become an overnight billionaire. His "Elliot" soon comes in the form of Candy Clark, a hotel clerk who befriends him, gives him a taste for Beefeater gin and rolls in the hay with loaded weapons (apparently, a Roeg must-have). Instead of a Speak and Spell, he develops a bad daytime TV addiction (eight TVs going at once). There's some funny stuff happening with X-rays and his eyes, not to mention some shady business beneath his nipples. By the time the government scientists come out to probe him, inject him, centrifuge him, he's an alcoholic, a recluse. He's given up all hope of ever seeing his beloved family again. The Man's in a deep, deep funk. Seriously, DO NOT try to cheer him up, bake him Tollhouse cookies. It will backfire on you, guaranteed.

The first time I saw The Man Who Fell to Earth years and years ago, I was brand new to Nic Roeg, watching on a teensy square monitor in NYU's media library. Despite the less than ideal presentation, the movie was odd enough and Roeg's surreal images so striking that even the travesties of '90s pan-and-scan couldn't keep me from being mesmerized. But, oh what a thing o' beauty it is to see this film again in Blu-ray!

Those desert shots! Those colors that pop! In its proper format, it is such a bigger, wider, weirder, grander thing. And, oh, so depressing! I forgot what a downer that ending really is. I also forgot about the really weird sequence with Bernie Casey. The one where he seems to fall from the heavens, land in a sparkling blue pool, then climb nude out of nowhere to his also-nude white wife. Question: Where did this scene come from? Answer: The curious mind of Roeg. Either that, or an X-rated Schlitz commercial.

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