Saturday, May 21, 2011

#304: The Man Who Fell to Earth

(Nicholas Roeg, 1976)

I'm starting to feel like Nicholas Roeg shares more in common with Stanley Kubrick than he does with any other filmmaker. Exhibit A is The Man Who Fell to Earth, a sci-fi movie that's totally unconcerned with being science fiction. Roeg's film is about isolation, but it's not a rejection of modernity in the way films about isolation usually are. The movie's core message attempts to speak more to humanity in its inherent nature, something with which Kubrick was constantly engaged, from his first masterpiece, Paths of Glory, to his last, Eyes Wide Shut. Kubrick famously said that editing was the only artform unique to film, so I'd be curious to know what he thought of Roeg's work, much of it made parallel to Kubrick's own most innovative and iconoclastic output (ironically, Roeg was briefly tapped for the adaptation of A Clockwork Orange that Kubrick eventually took on). Certainly both directors had a unique style that was impossible to mistake for someone else's, though Roeg's was the most consistent and blatant.

Roeg's aesthetic - established in so many other films in the director's career - is intact here, with wild temporal and perspective shifts and avant editing that leaves the viewer unsteady. But I still maintain that Bad Timing is a more effective (and affecting) use of his skills. The Man Who Fell to Earth is a very cold movie, or at least that's how it seemed to me. This is something Kubrick's films were often wrongly accused of, but I've never had the problem with Roeg's work until now. There's no point in the film where you aren't aware you are watching David Bowie, and Roeg seems too hung up on interacting with the science fiction genre he is skirting around to bother creating a cohesive whole. The message of The Man Who Fell to Earth is an intense and complex one, but the presentation gives the viewer the same sense of distance from the film that Roeg is arguing we all share with each other.

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