Our 2024 Staff Picks series continues next month with a sci-fi cult favorite, picked by Box Office Associate, Richard O’Brien. Here’s what they had to say about their pick:

“Directed by Nicholas Roeg and starring David Bowie in his most significant acting work (barring, of course, Zoolander), The Man Who Fell To Earth (1976) is one of the greatest science fiction films ever made, a heady and philosophical examination of the classic ‘Alien Invasion’ trope that plays on the cultural anxieties of the 1970s, the national anxieties of Americans at the time and international anxieties about Americans and their place in the world. It serves as a strangely beautiful intersection of the trends and fixations of the time.

It’s a lo-fi science fiction drama combining quasi-futurist set design and abstract dream sequence to phenomenal effect. It’s a paranoid thriller about government intervention in daily life eroding—more than even personal freedom—the individual sense of self in the face of a police state. It’s a bizarro mirror of Bowie himself, finding in alien visitor Thomas Jerome Newton another character folded into his repertory while still existing beyond him., coming off a previously even more bizarre attempt at pop rock cultural synergy by Roeg to do the same with Mick Jagger in the similarly cult classic film Performance (1970) at the start of the same decade. It’s a country music-tinged romance with surprisingly nuanced peeks at queer and interracial relationships, turning to tragedy as time, greed, and violence destroy anything worth loving, only for a hint of redemption to peek through at the very end. Rip Torn appears as a shining example of the slowly dying archetype of the Seventies Scientist-Hero, agnostic in the face of the bold new thing, but hopeful for a universe far in excess of his own experience.

Most of all, The Man Who Fell To Earth is a journey, the story of someone just passing through, ‘A Traveler!’ as Candy Clark’s Mary-Lou excitedly deems Bowie’s character during their first meeting. While Bowie’s performance is the centerpiece of the film, every member of the wider ensemble has some kind of journey, transformed by the horrifying specter of an America To Come, yet unformed, blinding anyone it sees as strange and dangerous with an x-ray photograph of the skull.

Despite all being so indicative of the cultural moment of its creation, The Man Who Fell To Earth is also timeless. The viewer—much like Newton—is set adrift in a vast unmoored chronology, the America of the past and future coexisting, equally alien to someone who is, of course, already alien. Even as time, failure, and other people set out to destroy him (and, in many ways, succeed), the character standing at the end of the film is alive. Unmoored, directionless, but alive, an eternal Traveler, only ever passing through.”

 

Catch The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976) at the Sidewalk Cinema March 21 – 23. Get tickets here.

August 19-25, 2024

Sidewalk Film Festival

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