Nicolas Roeg and more tell the full story of Bowie's greatest on-screen role

TAGS:
David Bowie is currently working on Lazarus, a musical production inspired by The Man Who Fell To Earth. In this feature from Uncut’s Take 103 issue (December 2005), we discover Bowie, in 1975, at his commercial peak. That November, he hit No 1 in the UK with the reissued “Space Oddity”, following a Top 5 album (Young Americans) and his first US chart-topper (“Fame”). An infamous television documentary, Cracked Actor, captured his fractured mental state as superstardom took its toll. Then he began work on a movie with director Nic Roeg called THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH – “a mind-stretching experience in sight, in space and sex” – and things really got freaky for Bowie… Words: Rob Hughes

_____________________

uncut_tmwfte_cover

It is January 26, 1975 and, at his London home, film director Nicolas Roeg is transfixed. On his TV screen, a pale, hollow-cheeked English rock star is staring out from behind paranoid, sunken eyes. As part of their Omnibus strand, the BBC are showing a fly-on-the-wall documentary made by young film-maker Alan Yentob. Tracking its subject across America, Cracked Actor offers an insight into the strange life of Britain’s leading music icon, David Bowie. Immediately, Roeg knows: he’s found his man.

Since arriving in the US in April ’74, Bowie had been shedding skins at a furious rate. Having killed off Ziggy Stardust at the Hammersmith Odeon the previous summer, he’d begun his journey from the Orwellian nightmare-scape of Diamond Dogs to the zoot-suited white soul of Young Americans. When Yentob’s crew arrived in Philadelphia to film studio sessions that August, they found a man in transition. Ditching the elaborate stage rig of his Diamond Dogs Revue, Bowie worked up a new look and set-list tailored to his current obsession with the music of Black America, renaming it The Philly Dogs Tour.

Painfully thin and lost in a blizzard of coke, Bowie was filmed in the back of a limo either flinching in drugged panic from police sirens or sipping from cartons of milk. Yentob captured a lad going slowly insane. But this was no average rock casualty – articulate and sensitive, he was cracking under the strain of the fame he’d once craved.

At one point, an insect fell in his cup. “There’s a fly floating around in my milk and it’s a foreign body,” he slurred, distractedly. “That’s kind of how I felt: a foreign body. And I couldn’t help but soak it up.” Bowie confessed to Yentob much later that he watched the film “again and again”. When the BBC man pressed him as to why, he replied: “Because it told the truth.”

Back home, Roeg was convinced he’d found the alien lead for his new sci-fi epic, The Man Who Fell To Earth. “I didn’t want an ‘actor’,” he later explained, “but someone who had the possibility of being unique.”

  1. 1. Introduction
  2. 2. Page 2
  3. 3. Page 3
  4. 4. Page 4
  5. 5. Page 5
  6. 6. Page 6
  7. 7. Page 7
Page 1 of 7 - Show Full List