Alan Yentob was responsible for getting David Bowie his proper first feature-film gig, after director Nicolas Roeg watched his legendary 1974 documentary Cracked Actor; Bowie stepped seamlessly from one outsider's odyssey across the American mindscape into another. He is like ET's spindly, sexy older brother as stranded alien Thomas Jerome Newton, seeking to transport water back to his parched planet. Bowie's skewed affect was a clean fit for the role, and it's not clear how much acting is on display; the musician, apparently up to his eyeballs in medicinal-strength cocaine, wasn't sure either. The wry playfulness of Paul Mayersberg's script offsets Bowie's imperial detachment, and keeps TMWFTE grounded as Newton's quest dissipates. Roeg surfs the delirium throughout, finding stratospheric poetic imagery in the New Mexico locations and peering towards the horizons of present-day America: immigrant marginalisation, ecological violence, corporate corruption and, in Newton's bank of television screens, traumatic media consciousness of it all ("Get out of my mind, all of you!"). That a major America studio (Columbia) was prepared to bankroll this kind of visionary circus is more proof of how far gone we are. Iconic, and nearly canonic.
The Man Who Fell to Earth – review
David Bowie is perfect in the lead role of Nic Roeg's prescient stranded-alien tale
Phil Hoad is a reporter, features writer and critic based in the south of France. Twitter @phlode