The Man Who Fell to Earth

“Nicolas Roeg’s The man who Fell to Earth presents an alien (David Bowie) whose knowledge and experience of our world is entirely mediated by television. Here the science fiction narrative serves as a metaphor for a less cosmic alienation: the British alien adrift in America – another ‘world of appearances’ (Marker). Roeg’s cinematography and mise-en-scène continually stress angularity, reflectivity, and prismaticity; the geometry of intersecting light and images; a substantial insubstantiality. Thomas Newton, the alien watches television (or televisions: six, twelve, or more). ‘Strange thing about television is that it doesn’t tell you everything,’ he muses. ‘It shows you everything about life on Earth, but the mysteries remain. Perhaps it’s the nature of television.’” 

Scott Bukatman1 


“Newton heeft zich aan zijn metalen stoel die uit een medisch kabinet lijkt te komen vastgeklonken om de beelden tot zich te laten komen, alsof hij zichzelf ermee injecteert. De connectie die hij zoekt met de mensen om hem heen is altijd verstoord, omdat hij gevangen zit in een eeuwig heden. Nicolas Roeg verkent in al zijn films de essentie van tijd. Hoe het verleden het heden infecteert in Don’t look now, of hoe in Walkabout drie jonge mensen zich hun tijd toe-eigenen in de onbegrensde Australische woestijn. In The Man Who Fell to Earth komen we terecht in een wereld waarin het verleden enkel als een artefact van het heden ervaren kan worden. Zo lijken de herinneringen aan Newton’s thuisplaneet een reclamespot. Steeds opnieuw komen de beelden van een buitenaards gezin terug, in een generische vorm die steeds fletser wordt, steeds artificiëler. Het hier en nu overwoekert Newtons lichaam en geest, en terwijl hij doorheen de decennia zijn schoonheid bewaart behandelen zijn verrimpelde en verlepte ‘vrienden’ hem als een levenloos reliek, opgesloten in een verduisterde kamer.”

Nina de Vroome


“Asked about his tour of America, and the new music he was creating, Bowie looks into the carton: ‘There’s a fly floating around in my milk and it’s a foreign body. That’s kind of how I felt. I’m a foreign body here, and I couldn’t help but soak it up. It has just supplied a need in me. It has become a mythland.’ He continues: ‘There is an underlying unease [in America]. They’ve developed a superficial calmness to underplay the fact that there’s a lot of pressure here. [...] 

I had already been tantalized by the idea of fragmentation because I was quite a fan of William S. Burroughs’s cut-ups. Nic realized that two things colliding can present a third piece of information that none of us were aware of, and it would delight him when he saw these coincidences make sense, this order coming out of chaos. The order in chaos is now a substantial theory in science. I took away that element and invested it in a lot of my subsequent work, and I guess it reached its zenith with my work with Brian Eno. My work was certainly informed by the coincidence and fragmentation process of working on this film with Nic.’”

Paul Duncan2


“Asked how he changed the film grammar, he said, ‘Basically, by taking away the crutch of time, which the audience usually holds onto. Some movies will say an event is taking place now, and then, three months later there is another event. But time is much more instant. I think the film is rather like a lifetime which goes in fits and starts. At the end of people’s lives, it is difficult to find what the actual story is.’”

Mel Gussow3

  • 1. Scott Bukatman, Termal Identity: The Virtual Subject in Postmodern Science Fiction (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 1993).
  • 2. Paul Duncan, “behind the scenes of The Man Who Fell to Earth”, (Vice, October 2017).
  • 3. Mel Gussow, “Roeg: The Man Behind The Man Who Fell To Earth”, (The New York Times, August 1976).