Leonard Cohen: Bird on a Wire
Palmer's film is that rare concert doc that isn't for established fans only.
It requires an almost courageous leap of the imagination to take Nicholas Roeg's "The Man Who Fell to Earth" seriously. Here's a film so preposterous and posturing, so filled with gaps of logic and continuity, that if it weren't so solemn there'd be the temptation to laugh aloud. And yet, at the same time, this is a film filled with interesting ideas -- it's like a bunch of tentative sketches for a more assured film that was never made.
Its genre is science fiction, but I doubt sophisticated sci-fi followers would find it fresh or interesting. Roeg gives us still another version of the alien visitor from outer space. This time the visitor is David Bowie, pale and wan, making a crash landing in a southwestern lake. He knows English, has a British passport, raises a small fortune by selling gold rings and then makes a gigantic fortune by merchandising several unique inventions from his home planet ("You'll be taking on RCA, Kodak and Xerox!" a lawyer gasps.) He wants to use the money to save his planet.
Roeg provides flashbacks to suggest some of the details of Bowie's home planet. It's very dry and desolate. Apparently, only a single family survives - at least, the only beings we see are Bowie, his wife and two children. They wear plastic suits to conserve precious bodily fluids. Bowie has built a spacecraft that looks, so help me, like a hunting lodge with wings. But since the craft remains behind after he's gone, maybe it's just a teleporter. In that case, what was it we saw hurtling through the atmosphere in the opening scene?
Such questions aside (and there's nothing more frustrating than asking logical questions about a movie that insists on being visionary), "The Man Who Fell to Earth" becomes the story of Bowie's gradual disintegration. At first, his fall is metaphysical, as he finds contact with our society to be profoundly unsettling. Toward the end, his fall is literal; after a cheerful and simpleminded young girl (Candy Clark) introduces him to the joys of gin and tonic, he can never quite get organized enough to return home and save his civilization.