David Bowie, the subject of the new Brett Morgen documentary Moon Age Reverie (in theaters and on Imax screens September 16), appeared in 12 scripted films: everything from The Magnanimous (1983’s Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence, from Japanese New Wave director Nagisa Ôshima) to lowbrow (2001’s Zoolander, in which he judges a runway exit). But for many fans, his most successful big-screen outing was his first.
Based on the 1963 science fiction novel by Walter Tevis (whose books The scammer Y The Queen’s Gambit were also adapted with great success), 1976’s The man who fell to earth tells the story of an alien whose planet has been hit by drought. Bowie was 28 and enjoying the success of his otherworldly Ziggy Stardust character when he was cast by director Nicolas Roeg, who cast another rock star, Mick Jagger, in the 1970s. Performance. Roeg had also considered throwing Jurassic Park novelist Michael Crichton, who at 6ft 9in more accurately matched the description of the alien in the book. But a projection of cracked actora 1975 television documentary about Bowie convinced Roeg, the glam rocker, that he was born for the part.
Bowie plays a humanoid alien named Thomas Jerome Newton who lands in New Mexico in search of water. While on Earth, Thomas patents alien technology and becomes very rich, intending to use it to build a boat to bring water home. He meets Mary-Lou (Candy Clark, Oscar-nominated for her performance in George Lucas’ american graffiti), who introduces him to the earthly pleasures of television, alcohol and sex.
“He wasn’t putting it on,” Roeg wrote of Bowie’s performance in his 2011 memoir. “For example, Bowie has a wonderful laugh. He was just left of center. It was like, ‘Isn’t that how they laugh on Earth?’ ”
The original man who fell to earth (it was revived as a Showtime/Paramount+ series this year) is now considered a sci-fi classic, revered by directors like Christopher Nolan, who cast Bowie as Nikola Tesla in 2006. The prestige. Roeg died at age 90 in 2018; Bowie was 69 years old when he died of liver cancer two years earlier.
This story first appeared in the September 16 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here for subscribe.
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