Hidden Netflix Gems – The Man Who Fell to Earth

Hidden Netflix Gems is a new feature designed to help readers answer that burning question, “What should I watch tonight?” It will be updated every Saturday before the sun goes down.

For all of his musical influence and his famous/infamous turn as Jareth the Goblin King in the Jim Henson production Labyrinth, my original introduction to the cultural phenomenon that is David Bowie came from a strange, somewhat disjointed British science fiction film from the 1970s. The first film in which Bowie ever appeared as a leading actor, The Man Who Fell to Earth is a surreal, satirical, and ultimately very bleak look at American values, as seen through the eyes of a visitor from another world. In much the same way that the Martians in H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds find themselves vulnerable to Earth’s diseases, Bowie’s alien finds himself far from immune to the destructive allure of earthly pleasures like alcohol, sex and television.

Thomas Jerome Newton, as Bowie’s alien calls himself while on Earth, lands in the New Mexico desert in search of water to bring back to his home planet, Anthea, where his wife and children are in danger of dying from a sever drought. Using the advanced technology of Anthea, he gains incredible wealth and a great deal of notoriety by patenting various inventions and becoming the head of World Enterprises Corporation, a technological conglomerate he forms with the help of patent attorney Oliver Farnsworth (Buck Henry). Newton’s ulterior motive with the company is to construct a space vehicle with which to ship water back to Anthea, but he soon becomes distracted from this purpose by a dalliance with Mary-Lou (Candy Clark), a hotel chambermaid who introduces Newton to alcohol and sex, and with whom he eventually moves into a house in New Mexico.

Meanwhile, Nathan Bryce (Rip Torn), Newton’s confidante at World Enterprises, suspects that Newton is not of this world and manages to find proof via an X-ray photo he takes without Newton’s knowledge. As Bryce considers what to do with his newfound knowledge, Newton sinks deeper into an alcohol-fueled haze of despair, doing little more with his days than drinking and watching multiple television screens at once and finally driving both Bryce and Mary-Lou away from him as his true, alien self is revealed to them. It is not that Newton is portrayed as an evil alien, however, but rather that the temptations of earthly existence have corrupted him and his original, purely good intentions.

Director Nicolas Roeg tells this strange, slowly paced story with the distinctively mesmerizing visual style and unusual editing techniques he brought to other great films such as Walkabout and Bad Timing. Like these films, The Man Who Fell to Earth is so subtle and contemplative that it may require multiple viewings to parse out all of its meaning, but its bold and daring imagery and quietly menacing, otherworldly atmosphere make it a joy to behold, and well worth more than one viewing.

  

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Movies for sale

I’m thoroughly fried this evening having done my Southern California thing and driven 180 miles basically to run family errands, but there is some more stuff going on that’s worth a mention.

* The American Film Market opens tomorrow. In case you haven’t heard of AFM, it is pretty much exactly what it sounds like: an event at which foreign buyers come to pick up the rights to mostly American films in various states of production. It’s an pretty important slice of the film financing process and one big event of the year in the foreign sales departments of film companies. (I actually worked in one of those myself in another life.)

One project on offer: a new version of one of the least performed of Shakespeare’s plays and one of the few this ex-English major has never read or seen: a contemporary “Coriolanus” being directed by Ralph Fiennes and starring Gerard Butler, who could use a little Shakespearian cred. Also, a film of an obscure classical play can definitely benefit from some star power. On the other hand, the script is being credited to John Logan of “The Last Samurai.” Ah, reminds of “Romeo and Juliet” … “with additional dialogue by Sam Taylor.”

* Not only “Scream IV,”  but “Scream V” and “Scream VI,” may actually be coming, says writer Kevin Williamson.

* Desperate for some more potent Oscar bait in the wake of the demise of “Amelia,” Fox Searchlight may apparently be moving up the release of “Crazy Heart” a country-music drama starring Jeff Bridges which, Steven Zeitchik writes, is being touted as “The Wrestler” goes country music. Sounds good to me, but in some ways that movie was already made back in ’73 with Rip Torn.

Okay, Mickey Rourke‘s character was a lot nicer, but the underlying spirit isn’t all that different.

  

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