The Men Who Fell to Earth – Walter Tevis and David Bowie

I am excited to see that a new series based on the book The Man Who Fell to Earth by Walter Tevis is coming out on Showtime in 2022. Chiwetel Ejiofor is a brilliant choice to star in it. 

I went to the theater in 1976 to see the David Bowie version. It was a big occasion in my small town because a film like that didn’t play in our theaters often. 

The film stays with you, but after reading the novel by Tevis, I realized the book is better. 

I’m in awe of Tevis. His novels have translated exceptionally well to film and TV. He wrote The Queen’s Gambit, a huge hit on Netflix this year; The Hustler, a classic movie starring Paul Newman, Piper Laure, and Jackie Gleason; and, of course, The Man Who Fell to Earth starring David Bowie. 

Not many artists can create such diverse characters. Tevis is one and so is David Bowie. I’m inspired by their creativity. 

Here are a few quotes about Bowie and The Man Who Fell to Earth from the essay “Bowie and the Berlin Wall” in my book Mysteries of Game Theory and Other Oddities.

“Before Bowie came to Berlin, he played Thomas Jerome Newton in his first feature film, The Man Who Fell to Earth, a role more fitting than any other character he played. He captured Newton’s superior knowledge and intellect and the essence of Newton, who was from the planet Anthea and had come down to earth to build a spaceship to transport water back to his drought-plagued planet that had destroyed itself through wars. Newton despaired that the same madness was likely to happen on earth.

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Whether it was director Nicolas Roeg’s vision, the editing, or the added sex scenes, the film didn’t allow the tragedy of Thomas Jerome Newton to unfold as clearly and poignantly as in the book. However, Bowie’s and Candy Clark’s performances were terrific, and the film is memorable.

Bowie used photos taken during The Man Who Fell to Earth as the album art on both his Station to Station and Low albums. A video from his final album, Blackstar, referenced Thomas Jerome Newton, and his final project, the musical Lazarus, featured Thomas Jerome Newton as the protagonist. The character of Newton obviously meant something to Bowie.

Newton also recorded an album, The Visitor, in the Anthean language for his family, who would soon be dead because of his failure to produce a spacecraft that could save them and his fellow Anthenians. Bowie was supposed to produce The Man Who Fell to Earth’s soundtrack, but it never materialized; instead he brought what he had written to Berlin and played it for his band. They were impressed. At least one song, “Subterraneans,” ended up on the Low album.”

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Joseph Raffetto

Joseph Raffetto earned a B.A. in Comparative Literature from San Diego State University. He can be found online @noovella on Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, and Goodreads. His books are available on all online booksellers.