Let us consider the genre of classic rock-music movies. We had Magical Mystery Tour, featuring The Beatles. It was amusing in 1968, but it is an embarrassment by today's standards. Groundbreaking effects then, but Millennials don't have much patience for the limitations of the past. Then there was Tommy, so garishly produced, over-acted, over-hyped, and generally insensitive that it was cut-rated down to second-run theaters within weeks of its release, and Lisztomania, its follow-up, fared even worse. About the only decent movies of this type from the original rock era was the Beatles's early effort and Dylan's Don't Look Back.
Bob Dylan's Classic Film
The Man Who Fell To Earth is not only one of the few experimental rock films to survive the test of time. It is a triumph from a period of amalgamation between those experimenting with music, film, and often drugs.
Bowie's film has the inexorably slow and stoned development of Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, the visual intensity of the iconic Dr. Zhivago, and for the time, cutting edge special effects. It has the photographic creativity of important late 20th century classics like 200 Motels, and the panoramic scope of the critic's favorite of the James Bond films, Goldfinger.
David Bowie's Masterpiece Film
Nothing, and nothing is missing from David Bowie's masterpiece. Bowie is The Man Who Fell To Earth. He is also, in this film, the man who gets sold out, the alien screwed by Earth's non-culture, the outsider destroyed by mediocrity. There is a strong message here from a time in cultural history when messages in films were more important than CGI. The message is plain and simple: remember where you come from, and remember what you are striving toward.
So where did Bowie (alias Tommy Newton in the film) come from? From a waterless planet—a desert planet—a barren orb (Earth in 500 years? Not according to Donald Trump). We slowly learn that he had left for Earth, only to return and rescue his family humanoids, and lovable ones at that, not withstanding their yellow eyes and internal genitals. He falls to Earth. He sells rings to pawn shops, and raises money for a lawyer. He brings the lawyer patents. The patents make money. He becomes rich. He becomes popular. He becomes a recluse. He becomes hated. He builds a space vehicle. He announces his imminent departure.
David Bowie's Alien Family
The rest no reviewer should spoil. David Bowie's Newton is taught by those he loves to love the things he hates: alcohol, which sickens him; earthly sex, which frightens him; procrastination, which undoes him. All the time he can clearly see his family dying in their interstellar wet suits, and there is nothing he can do. Is there anything we can do?
I believe that David Bowie made this movie precisely to answer that question—to say yes, we can do a hell of a lot, if we will not be sold; if we will not turn our course; if we will insist that our goals and loves come first. Tommy Newton serves as a warning to us, a powerful warning as important today as it was over four decades ago. A warning of what we must do if we are not to be destroyed, and end up in whatever our private horror version of a life with no meaning. There were many movies of the late 20th century, made to tell us something, but this is one of the best you will ever see from the era. There are lots of survivors, but this is more—The Man Who Fell To Earth is a masterpiece.