David Bowie

The Man Who Fell to Earth

Last week, David Bowie released The Next Day, his first album of entirely original music in a decade. That the seemingly retired former glam-space alien suddenly revealed himself to have laid down a full album’s worth of studio sessions in complete secrecy shocked rock journalists and fans of the shape-shifting pop star, inspiring many assessments of Bowie’s career at large and what this album means with respect to it. The Thin White Duke himself seems to be engaging in that exact same conversation, as promotional materials around the album incorporate Bowie’s past iconography: the cover for The Next Day appropriates the 1977 cover of Heroes with a block of white text over it and the word “Heroes” marked out, and the video for the aptly-titled single “The Stars (Are Out Tonight)” features a model imitating 1976-era Bowie and a magazine cover featuring a still of Bowie from the film The Man Who Fell to Earth from the same year. Bowie’s multifaceted personae have become manifest through album covers, live performances, and, of course, his diverse and shifting musical stylings. But Bowie, while hardly a traditional rock star/film star hybrid, has also exercised much of his persona through his selective cinematic appearances, which exhibit his chameleonesque performance capabilities across media. Whether playing a WWI veteran in David Hemmings’s Just a Gigolo, a vampire in Tony Scott’s The Hunger, the Goblin King in Jim Henson’s Labyrinth (my childhood introduction to Bowie), Andy Warhol in Julian Schnabel’s Basquiat, or Nikola Tesla in Christopher […]

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Heat Movie Michael Mann

I’ve been taking my family on a tour of Michael Mann’s filmography recently, and every minute has been fantastic. Mann has a great eye for cinematography, writes and/or directs characters who are refreshingly competent and layered, and has a way of getting great mileage out of a topic he enjoys (crime and those who commit and prevent it) by changing the level of its presentation. He has done pieces both epic (Heat) and intimate (Collateral). He has ventured into the past, where his favorite subject varies in presence from “extant, but not important compared to other events” (The Last of the Mohicans) to “the point of the entire film” (Public Enemies). He brought Hannibal Lector to the screen for the first time as Hannibal Lecktor in Manhunter, which I must admit remains my primary source exposure to everyone’s favorite cannibal. All of these traits make Mann a director whose work should be followed, but what absolutely drives me wild about him is his use of music in his pictures’ key scenes. Mann’s soundtracks are usually a mix of contemporary rock, house music, a slow and/or seductive piece for particularly romantic moments and several compositions written specifically for the film by his composer. At least once in every one of his films that I have had a chance to see, Mann takes a piece from his soundtrack and sets it to a climactic or character defining scene and the resulting moment never fails to astound. Dialogue is usually sparse to nonexistent […]

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Criterion Files

The 1980s proved to be an interesting and difficult time for auteurs of the 1960s and 1970s. Directors like Copolla, Scorsese, De Palma, Altman, etc. offered works that were far from their classics of the previous decade, but many of these films have aged well and proven to be compelling entries within the respective ouvres of these directors precisely because they aren’t part of their canon. While British director Nicolas Roeg did not play a central part in New Hollywood in the same way as the directors I listed, his 1970s work was certainly part and parcel of this brief countercultural revolution in narrative storytelling. I see Roeg as something of a British equivalent to Hal Ashby: someone who made brilliant entry after brilliant entry throughout a single decade, only to fade out of the spotlight once the 1980s began. But unlike the late Ashby, Roeg has continued making films during these years, and The Criterion Collection has taken one of his most perplexing entries from the era of Reagan and Alf out of obscurity. Insignificance (1985) is a strange film about a strange time. Based on the play by Terry Johnson, Insignificance stages an impossible meeting between iconoclastic minds as the likenesses of Marilyn Monroe (Roeg’s then-wife Teresa Russell), Albert Einstein (Michael Emil), Joe DiMaggio (Gary Busey), and Sen. Joe McCarthy (Tony Curtis) move in an out of a hotel room as they share a variety of 50s-topical dramatic scenarios.

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Every day, come rain or shine or internet tubes breaking, Film School Rejects showcases a trailer from the past. Haunting. Mysterious. Sensual. Strange. Perverse. Riveting. These are all words that might describe the 1983 vampire movie featuring David Bowie and the “open sensuality” of Susan Sarandon. Fortunately, the trailer is only slightly ridiculous and refuses to say what the movie’s about. The best kind! Plus, zero of the vampires do any sparkling. Think you know what it is? Check the trailer out for yourself:

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Every day, come rain or shine or internet tubes breaking, Film School Rejects showcases a trailer from the past. If you weren’t clear on how a movie could be a shocking, mind-stretching experience in sight and space AND sex, then you’ll need to check out this trailer immediately. Starring the phenomenon of his time, David Bowie, in his first film role, he plays a ginger alien who delivers his most frightened lines at a monotone pitch. That’s pretty far out. Think you know what it is? Check the trailer out for yourself:

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Criterion Files

The word “cult cinema” is thrown about quite liberally in film criticism, but it takes a dense history to firmly qualify a given film as “cult.” Nicholas Roeg’s sci-fi headtrip The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976) is certainly a cult film, as its audience was never “found” in a traditional, straightforward way (i.e., in its original theatrical release). The spotty, complex reception history of The Man Who Fell to Earth has a great deal to do not only with what it was, but when it was. Based on the 1963 novel by Walter Tevis, the film secured financing mostly because of the bankability of its star, David Bowie, in his first starring film role, yet the final product was something of a mystery and an infuriation for initial audiences and critics: a psychedelic bad-trip ruminating on sexual frustration, identity crises, and alcoholism. It was hardly the piece of science-fiction entertainment audiences were used to, as the storytelling frequently cut away to impenetrable, chaotic imagery that was elusive in meaning in Roeg’s signature idiosyncratic visual style. A formal experimenter working with non-experimental material, Roeg made something that was, historically speaking, an anomaly. Just as Roeg’s semi-experiments belonged in neither the movie theater nor the Whitney Museum, The Man Who Fell to Earth sat in a curious liminal space between 1970s sci-fi and New Hollywood countercultural cinema while comfortably embodying neither.

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Criterion Files

Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence is a truly unique film by several definitions. Japanese master filmmaker Nagisa Oshima’s first English-language film (and it is worth noting here that much of it is in Japanese) embodies some dense discourses about Japanese identity, yet in many respects this is a film without a nation. But that’s exactly the point, for Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence embodies a host of contradictions in terms of how we’re used to experiencing films of its relative ilk: it is a film about war, yet it is never about patriotism or combat; it is a film about an intersection of cultures, yet it never seeks to deliver a message of sameness of common ground; and it is a film about sexual tensions between males, yet homosexuality is never explicitly addressed in a way that would place it fittingly in the canon of “queer cinema.”

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