Wow. I watched The Man Who Fell to Earth for the first time, finally, a couple of weeks ago, on my laptop on the plane home from the holidays. Or rather I watched most of it: the flight ended before the movie did, and, it being a Nicolas Roeg movie, there were a number of scenes I fast-forwarded through for the sake of propriety. I caught up with the rest of it soon after and have been under its spell since. I'm not sure if all the extras on the wonderful Criterion edition have heightened that spell or broken it, though: after rewatching it in pieces that way the movie is even more impressive to me but has lost some of the strangeness that is its greatest power. The commentary track is a bit of a disappointment, especially given the commenters: Roeg, Bowie, and Buck Henry, for god's sake. Henry's too blandly analytical and Roeg doesn't seem that interested in putting his visions into words; only Bowie has the right measure of backstage storytelling and aphoristic insight. But the separate interview with screenwriter Paul Mayersberg is fascinating and gives a better view into Roeg's working methods than Roeg himself could.
One of those methods, clearly, is that Roeg trusted his gut and his sense of strangeness, and was prepared to accept the surprises his performers and craftspeople might bring him. It makes for a story told in images, which create echoes within the movie and outside it that, as in the Roeg movie I love even more than this one, Don't Look Now, aren't immediately explicable. And it's a story told through charisma: Bowie's alien charisma, which I admit I've been a latecomer to, and the oddball openness of Rip Torn and the great Candy Clark, who I'll take for your Karen Black any day.
I might have more to say when I've finished the Walter Tevis novel the movie was based on (also included in the Criterion edition!), but in the meantime, here are a few of those images: