A space capsule detaches, real space footage, its jets blazing with brilliant colour. It flies down, burning through the Earth’s atmosphere, and splashes into a lake of glistening water.
We see the alien, also descending, feet unsure on a crumbling slope. A stick insect in a duffel coat, the sunshine bright behind his flailing silhouette. This is Thomas Jerome Newton (David Bowie), an alien Icarus come to Earth in search of the water to quench his parched planet.
Meanwhile we hear the classical sounds of Holst’s The Planets. In this solar system Newton is the Sun and those orbiting are stray oddballs lost in the American vastness. Candy Clark, Rip Torn, Buck Henry – America boiled down into imaginary landmarks.
Newton poses as an Englishman, the perfect cover for his general oddness. He is a classic Roeg lead, a stranger in a strange land. We see the landscape as he does, full of beauty and scope but also with memories of America long past and his own family many moons away.
This is a personal epic, kaleidoscopic in its visuals with a soundtrack that flips and flips like the many TVs that entrance Newton. John Phillips put together these tunes, a feast of Americana – but wait, Roy Orbison is playing, we know that all is not right in this world. There are temptations to battle, and a government suspicious of corporations that don’t play ball. That lake may still glisten but gin keeps on flowing ready to quench but never cure.
Mayersberg’s script is grand and tragic, an odd romance, a touching fable. Bowie is the alien, otherworldly but also with the intelligence and grace to be believable. But standing at the top of the slope with the sun behind him and the water below is Nic Roeg, the true visionary, creating a world as he sees it, full of possibilities but always unknowable. His ideas fly out of the screen to burn your retinas as Try To Remember plays on the jukebox.
Man Who Fell To Earth features as part of the Made In Britain season and will be screening around the UK.