See David Bowie Behind the Scenes on The Man Who Fell to Earth

Nov 10, 2017
David Bowie behind the scenes on Nic Roeg's film The Man Who Fell To Earth. Courtesy of Taschen 

It's been more than 40 years since the late rock star David Bowie's film debut in the 1976 science fiction thriller The Man Who Fell to Earth, in which the musician stars as a humanoid extra-terrestrial who comes to Earth and builds a billion-dollar conglomerate so that he can return to his drought-stricken home planet (as TIME once described the plot).

A new book — released ahead of the final stop in the touring exhibition David Bowie Is, which opens on March 2, 2018, at the Brooklyn Museum — sheds light on the making of the movie with behind-the-scenes images by David James.

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While TIME's original review of the film called it director Nicholas Roeg's "least successful effort" (with "a yarn that carries dank traces of Twilight Zone"), it ranked as one of Bowie's most successful efforts by the time the magazine looked back on his career after his death on Jan. 10, 2016.

Here's how film critic Stephanie Zacharek described his performance in his obituary:

As Thomas Jerome Newton, an alien who has come to Earth disguised as a human being, desperate to save his waterless home planet, Bowie radiates an otherworldly coolness — it seems to pour off his body the way we humans, made of regular flesh and blood, give off heat... It’s in this performance that Bowie’s magnificent eyes — one with a pupil perpetually dilated, caused when a childhood friend landed a punch that hit terribly right — cast their biggest spell. They’re haunting in the number of secrets they reveal, but also in what they hold close. His Thomas is a man who’s not a man at all. Yet by being forced to play one in his strange new landscape, he inches closer to knowing what it means to be human — and the more we watch him, the less alien he seems to us as well.

Tributes such as that — plus the album chart records set in the wake of his death — seem to affirm something the film's director Roeg told TIME in 1983: "That's what makes him spectacular. He goes away and re-emerges bigger than before," Roem said. "He doesn't have a fashion, he's just constantly expanding. It's the world that has to stop occasionally and say, 'My God, he's still going on.'"

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