10 Things You Didn’t Know About… The Man Who Fell To Earth

❉  We Are Cult celebrates Nicolas Roeg’s cult classic, The Man Who Fell To Earth, recently released in an all-new 4K remaster.


1. David Bowie wasn’t the first choice to play the lead

Nic Roeg originally considered author Michael Crichton for the lead role of Thomas Newton. The 6ft 9in writer of Westworld and Jurassic Park certainly stood out from the crowd. Others suggested for the role included Peter O’Toole and Mick Jagger (who Roeg had directed in Performance) but Roeg, producer Si Litvinoff and agent Maggie Abbott realised that David Bowie would make the perfect other-worldly presence they needed and, after seeing him in the documentary, Cracked Actor, Roeg was convinced he should be his Newton.

2. For the first and probably last time in cinema history, a British film was shot entirely in the USA using a British crew

Nic Roeg and producers Mike Deeley and Barry Spikings of British Lion wanted people they knew and trusted to work on the film rather than a unionised Hollywood crew. With money pre-secured through distribution rights and taking advantage of the Right to Work rule in Mexico, they cherry-picked the crew they wanted and chartered an Aer Lingus plane to fly them over from the UK. There was a British invasion of New Mexico for six weeks which is unlikely ever to happen again.

3. Bowie had his own personal travelling library on set

Throughout his life, David Bowie was an obsessive reader and fellow actor Buck Henry witnessed this on the set of The Man Who Fell to Earth. Henry spotted that the limousine Bowie was driven around in had a boot crammed with books. Bowie later admitted that he travelled around with a vast collection of reading matter. “I took with me 100s and 100s of books… It was a travelling library. There were just mountains of books.”

4. There’s something strange in David’s milk…

One of the enduringly weird tales from the set is that one morning as Bowie had his usual cornflakes and milk while having his hair done, he spotted a foreign substance in the milk. He instantly became convinced he’d been poisoned and started choking. The singer turned actor later claimed to have seen a golden liquid swimming around in the milk. Producer Deeley says Bowie thought he had seen an alien while hair stylist Martin Samuel says he was obsessed with the idea he would be assassinated. After a check-up in hospital, Bowie resumed filming two days later.

5. Alien, occultist, coke fiend… and jolly nice chap

Bowie’s paranoia at the time was understandable when you put it in context. He was filming his first lead role in a major movie having never acted seriously before, he was using an awful lot of cocaine and he was fixated with the occult. Bowie himself admitted, “I was out of my head from ’74 at least through ’76, in a serious and dangerous manner.” But this seemed to help his performance, as he told Rolling Stone: “I was feeling as alienated as the character was… I was totally insecure with about 10 grams a day in me. I was stoned out of my mind from beginning to end.” And yet, cast and crew reported him to be polite, well behaved and considerate… if eccentric.

6. Rip Torn went AWOL

While Bowie was in the throes of drug-induced paranoia, his co-star Rip Torn was exhibiting a different kind of behaviour. Renowned as a live wire, Litvinoff said he could see Torn was tense as soon he arrived on location while director of photography Tony Richmond said he was as crazy as a loon. Richmond recalls one day when they were shooting, Torn just went missing. They eventually found him 100 yards away fishing in a river. Richmond says another time when someone went to get Torn from his hotel room, they saw that he was keeping the fish he’d caught in the bath.

7. There will be blood

One scene in The Man Who Fell to Earth depicted doctors cutting Bowie’s Newton open to try to understand his alien physiology. Disliking how the fake blood they’d got looked, director of photography Tony Richmond planned to use pig’s blood for the scene instead but Bowie refused to have it near him. He did agree to use human blood instead and Roeg insisted Richmond should give his own blood as he’d been unhappy with the fake blood in the first place. Reluctantly, Richmond let a nurse take a draft of his blood and that’s what you see ooze out of Newton’s body.

8. The curious case of the missing soundtrack

One of the great mysteries surrounding The Man Who Fell to Earth is what happened to the David Bowie soundtrack. Many believe there’s one hidden in a vault somewhere, but the simple truth is Bowie never completed one. Maggie Abbott says a deal was struck for Bowie to produce a soundtrack as well as star in the film and he worked on ideas during the evenings after filming, calling in Paul Buckmaster, who he’d worked with on Space Oddity, to help. However, nothing suitable emerged from the sessions and the only tracks to survive were Subterraneans and Weeping Wall which appeared on Bowie’s Low album. Eventually, John Phillips of the Mamas and Papas put a soundtrack together that didn’t include any Bowie material – despite what the paperback tie-in novel claimed.

9. Cutting room controversy

Roeg, his editor Graeme Clifford and assistant Rodney Glenn, worked for months on editing the film at Shepperton Studios back in England and were very pleased with the results. Less pleased however were the film’s American distributors, Paramount. Their new head of production, Barry Diller, wanted to make an impression with a hit movie and described Roeg’s film as pornographic when he went to a screening. Instead, British Lion agreed a new deal to distribute The Man Who Fell To Earth in the US with independent cinema entrepreneur Don Rugoff who insisted on a new cut of the film which he oversaw. Rugoff’s cuts made the film incoherent and nonsensical. Roeg had not authorised the edit and was furious.

10. What’s it all about?

Many of the cast and crew were none too sure of what The Man Who Fell to Earth was about, despite seeing it being made from close quarters. Harrison Ellenshaw, in charge of special effects, didn’t get it even after three readings of the script: “Each time I read it I became more confused. I became convinced that Nic Roeg and the producers did not have a clue what was going on as well.” Buck Henry felt the same: “I don’t think I ever understood the film. Scene by scene I kept asking Nic, ‘What is this sequence about? What am I saying? What do the words mean?’ And so very Nic-like, he replied: ‘Ahh, don’t worry about the meaning!’ But this was Nic’s method; let the viewer work out the meaning for themselves. If they could.”

❉  StudioCanal’s new 4k restoration of The Man Who Fell To Earth was released on DVD and Blu-ray in the UK on 10th October by StudioCanal and is part of the ‘Vintage Classics collection’ – showcasing iconic British films, all fully restored and featuring brand new extra content.

❉  The motion picture soundtrack to David Bowie’s ‘The Man Who Fell to Earth’ was released commercially for the very first time, as a two-disc CD/LP set on September 9th from Universal Music Group.

❉  A behind-the-scenes look at the making of the landmark sci-fi movie is also published in September from Unstoppable Cards Limited Editions www.themanwhofelltoearth.co.uk

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