Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Man who fell to Earth.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Walter_Tevis

I watched this film last night after watching an entire DVD worth of special features related to the film.  Most interesting was a long discussion by the screen writer, Paul Mayserberg, who went on at length about the writer, Walter Tevis, who wrote the source novel in 1963.  Tevis also wrote the book 'The Hustler' and it's sequel 'The Color of Money', as well as another science fiction novel called 'Mockingbird' that won a Nebula award.  Mayserberg had some very interesting insights in to Tevis.  He called him a writer who could not be categorized and because of that his brilliance went largely unrecognized.  A central theme of his work is the tragic character of the "brilliant failure" someone who is the best at something but still cannot win. His tragic flaw is that he is too good and is brought low by the mediocre standard that surrounds him.  Fast Eddie in The Hustler is a brilliant pool player but when he gets his chance to play the recognized champion, Minnesota Fats, he is defeated.  Thomas Newton in The Man who fell to Earth is a highly evolved being from another world who is tricked by a pack of evolved chimps. 

When I first saw this film in 1976 I thought it was really brilliant and unlike any other science fiction film I had seen. It was like a darker version of 'The Day the Earth Stood Still'.  In ways it reminded me also of Ursula Leguins story in 'The Left Hand of Darkness' about an alien alone on another world among other aliens.  It's about the alienation of being an alien. It's not about creatures from another world invading earth, it's about what it is like to be really alone. The opening sequence of a space ship descending to earth, crashing in a lake, and then a lone figure walking awkwardly down a hill being observed by a single mysterious human being.  Back lit he lumbers down a hill like a dark monster, wanders through a lonely amusement park, sees a load of sheep in a truck, then comes upon a pawn shop where in the back ground a record is playing  Louis Armstrong's version of 'Blueberry Hill' which sounds weird and unworldly like it might sound to someone from another world.  The movie pretty much goes downhill from there until the closing where we see Thomas Newton alone many years later stuck on Earth. "I don't think I'll be sober anymore" the alien laments and then drops his glass and a waiter observes "I think Mr. Newton has had enough."  He hangs his head as Artie Shaw plays Stardust in the background.

When I say the film goes downhill from the beginning and then resurrects itself at the end I refer more to the "final cut" of the film which includes a lot of footage that I don't believe was in the original release.  Of course now I can't seem to find the original release of the film so I guess I have to rely on memory which could be flawed.  I do though recall being very impressed by the film the first time I saw it.  I also read the novel afterwards and thought the film was a good adaptation.  Several years after the original release I saw a re-release of the film as a 'directors cut'.  Most of the footage that was added had to do with the sexual escapades of Rip Torn with girls half his age which was not a pretty sight, and a weird music video like scene between David Bowie and Candy Clark involving them romping on a bed with a gun.  I thought the film had been ruined.  Last night I watched a DVD release that included the same extra footage which now seems to be the final cut of the film so I guess I'll never know if my memory of first seeing the film was accurate.  Still despite that I think the film is worth watching and is one of my favorite science fiction films which is a short list that doesn't include Kubrick's '2001 a Space Odyssey'.  Sorry Stanley.

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