The Man Who Fell to Earth (Nicolas Roeg / United Kingdom, 1976):

Ziggy Stardust was an uncanny pop concept not lost on Nicolas Roeg, who here has David Bowie modulate it into a cosmic Great Gatsby burlesque. Landing in New Mexico from a drought-cracked planet, the visitor—chalk-skinned and ginger-headed, angular like a Giacometti—gulps down a cup of pond water and sets out to make his fortune. From $20 for a wedding ring at a small-town gift shop to billions in the gizmo market is but a hop, a skip, and a jump, or so it seems to the hyper-acute visionary who watches sunlight leisurely reflected on skyscraper surfaces and then notices that in the space of a cut his earthling companions have aged decades. The progression is from glam prophet to spent vampire (Citizen Kane is the clear model), along the way there are brushes with civilization in the form of the chambermaid-turned-concubine (Candy Clark, beyond fearless) and the fallen scholar and coed-humper (Rip Torn) who introduces himself as "kind of a cliché, the disillusioned scientist." Proudly upholding the droll tradition of British sci-fi, Roeg sets up all sorts of frameworks. There’s a traveler’s vision of American terrain, ecstatic, disoriented, a panorama of rockabilly and enormous deserts and lakes spotted with hotels and trains, endless space where divergent impulses grind and intertwine. There’s a portrait of how the capitalist ecosystem must not be unbalanced that grows into a satire of Pakula’s political thrillers ("Take the wider view," muses Bernie Casey's corporate honcho). And there’s a wild existential comedy about how sex and Kabuki are surprisingly alike, about identity and perception (Bowie’s grin turns into a grimace before a wall of TV screens: "Get out of my head!") and not knowing who your lover really is until you’re in bed next to an elongated, gooey humanoid. Resnais directing I Married a Monster from Outer Space (with a soupçon of Corman’s Not of This Earth) is what is needed here, and that's precisely what Roeg provides, an experiment touching on intergalactic irony and the deepest inner disconnection, a work of telescopes and microscopes. Cinematography by Anthony Richmond. With Buck Henry, Jackson D. Kane, and Tony Mascia.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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