The Man Who Fell To Earth remix
notes on the edit
The idea of mixing The Man Who Fell To Earth with Bowie’s music has been kicking around in my head for quite awhile. Long before I became aware of the Dark Side of the Moon/Wizard of Oz mash-up, I was listening to music while watching movies for my own stoned kicks. At one point during my Vegas years, I moved in with two friends and we each had a TV and VCR, which we erected as a tower in the living room so we could watch 3 movies at once while blasting music, and with the right chemical stimulation it all made sense. Of course the whole thing was inspired by Bowie’s TV set up in The Man Who Fell To Earth. Over the years, once I got my hands on better and better editing technology, I would make mashups of songs with film clips for my own amusement and for friends to watch. I started to incorporate them into VJ nights at clubs and other shows I hosted. I figured if I was amused by all this, others might be as well.
The two albums Station to Station and Low are deeply connected to the film The Man Who Fell To Earth. The songs of Station to Station were inspired by his role in the film and Low started as a potential soundtrack. For various reasons, the soundtrack never happened, but it became one of those lost film projects that I wanted to experience. What would it be like to have the soundtrack made by Bowie during his most creative period? The other major clue is both album covers feature images from the film, as if they were in fact soundtracks.
The film itself is one of the most challenging sci-fi films ever made. Most Bowie fans do not seem to like it. It’s a sad, tragic, and very adult tale that does not conform to any preconceived notions what a sci-fi film should be. I should add that director Nicholas Roeg is one of my favorite filmmakers. In the period where I feel Bowie was at the height of his creativity: 1970-1980, Roeg was at his peak, making some of the most groundbreaking films of all time. He is highly influential, but there is no-one like Roeg. He’s his own genre.
During the week after Bowie’s death, I immersed myself in his life and work. I planned to revisit the film, and thought this would be the time to try this experiment. The first thing I tried was simply to play the two albums in order while watching the film. This started out promising enough (which is why the track “Station to Station” starts things out), but it didn’t seem to work. The two albums only cover half of the film’s 2+ hour running time (which would mean you would need to add “Heroes” and part of Lodger to the mix). Thinking about Bowie’s love of random systems (he incorporated Burroughs’ cut-up method and Eno’s Oblique Strategies into his creative process), I felt maybe just listening to the songs in random shuffle might be the way to go, but first tried a more direct approach.
In an editing program, I lined up songs to scenes that I felt matched conceptually to the lyrics and fit the film’s visuals, mood and rhythm. My first try (“Sound and Vision” to the scene of Bowie in front of the wall of TVs) worked perfectly enough to encourage me to fit in the rest of the albums. It was like a jigsaw puzzle that required a little editing (which I was trying to avoid). My plan was to make a separate video for each song and let the viewer watch them at random, but I thought that would be too much work for anyone to bother with. I then rearranged the film scenes in order of the album sequencing. That was interesting, and fit in with Roeg’s use of fragmented time (which he uses in small amounts throughout this film, but made it a major component of his next film, the underrated Bad Timing, which is my favorite of his films.)
Ultimately I put the scenes back in chronological order, which required a bit of editing and mixing to work, but it became a seamless mix of music and images. So, does it work? I don’t know. You are only seeing half the film and not hearing any dialog, so the plot will be lost (If you haven’t seen the film, please do before watching this, plus I should add it is NSFW) Being detached from the story, makes you appreciate Roeg’s incredible gift of composition and editing. Ultimately, there are worse things you can do with an hour of your time than listen to two of the best albums of the 70’s while watching scenes from one of the best sci-fi films of that decade.