On Monday, June 26 New York Film Academy students were treated to a star-studded screening. NYFA’s Chair of Cinematography Tony Richmond screened his classic film “The Man Who Fell to Earth.” The film’s leading lady Candy Clark joined him for the discussion of one of David Bowie’s most popular films.
Directed by Nicolas Roeg,“The Man Who Fell to Earth“ is about an alien (Bowie) trying to save his planet by siphoning water off of Earth. To do so, he assumes the identity of Thomas Jerome Newton, starts a billion dollar company, and moves in with Mary-Lou (Clark). But the creature could not predict the cruelty of business done here on Earth and soon must face the consequences.
Film critic and frequent NYFA collaborator Peter Rainer hosted the Q and A. Rainer kicked off the evening by enquiring about working with the renowned director and frequent collaborator of Richmond, Nicholas Roeg.
Landing the lead male role for any film can be difficult. Roeg originally had someone else in mind for the role. As Richmond shared, “Nick’s first choice was Michael Crichton. He was very tall. He was going to do it and then pulled out. The whole thing kind of fell apart. Then Nick saw ‘Cracked Actor,’ a documentary on David Bowie on the television. They scheduled a meet-up. Bowie kept him waiting for about six hours, eventually said he would do it, and then we were off and running.”
Many perceive “The Man Who Fell to Earth“ to be a science fiction film. According to Rainer, this is not the case: The themes are much more closely related to a family drama. This weird blend of genres along with the magnetism of superstar David Bowie at the helm the film led to the creation of a hit. But, as actress Candy Clark told students, not everyone thought that success would translate.
“It’s a two hour and twenty-three-minute movie,” Clark began. “Donald Rugoff, head of Cinema 5 at the time, had a reputation for putting out art house films that exemplified the director’s vision. But with this film, he started seeing dollars. Nick Rogue and Graeme Clifford had spent a year and a half meticulously cutting this film, piece by piece. Rugoff got a hold of it. Despite his reputation, he decided to cut twenty-three minute. He hired a guy who cuts commercials. This film took a year to cut. The new guy did it in a week. He just willy-nilly took out stuff.”
While touring to promote the film, Clark saw the fist American cut of the film. She called Nick immediately after, but the damage was done. “Years later I called up Cinema 5. I pitched this big lie that I was getting asked about the film all of the time.” Clark then convinced them to release the original cut of the film, saying she told them, “You don’t have to spend any money. Just take the original poster and add a banner with the word: uncut. I’ll promote it any way you want … As a result, the American cut has dwindled to the wayside. All that is seen now is the director’s cut. It’s now out on Criterion. I never gave up on this film.”
During the Q and A, one student asked how Richmond planned so many of the daytime shots to get the light just right.
Richmond revealed, “I would like to say that I did it. But I was so, so lucky with the sky. Every time we did some vast exterior there would be this incredible sky. The scene with the cottage, for instance, that cloud hung over the cottage all day. It never moved. I went back to Mexico and I was going through this little town and I felt like I’d been there. Now, it’s a huge artist commune.” The location holds artistic magic.
The New York Film Academy would like to thank Tony Richmond and Candy Clark for sharing their experiences with our students. We would also like to thank Peter Rainer for hosting the night’s festivities. The 4k restoration of “The Man Who Fell to Earth“ is now available everywhere Blu-Rays are sold. Rainer’s book “Rainer on Film” is also available for sale on Amazon.