Thursday, 18 October 2007

The Man Who Fell To Earth - the lost soundtracks

Hot on the heels of the critical success of his bizarre supernatural tale Don't Look Now, maverick director Nicholas Roeg, cast his 'letric eye on Walter Tevis' short novel, The Man Who Fell To Earth, casting rock legend David Bowie as the benign but unhappy alien, Thomas Jerome Newton in this 1976 art house classic.

Bowie, then at the height of his cocaine habit, was an inspired choice by Roeg who made clever use of Bowie's fragility and otherworldly weirdness. Rumour has it that Peter O'Toole was considered for the role, but when Roeg saw Alan Yentob's classic rockumentary Cracked Actor featuring a deeply paranoid and slightly unhinged Bowie during the gruelling 1974 Diamond Dogs/Soul Tour, there was no question who was ideal for the role.

In my opinion, Bowie has never given a more compelling performance on film, though perhaps he was, to an extent simply playing a version of himself.

The added bonus of getting Bowie in on the production was of course that Roeg not only had the kudos of a bona-fide rock star in his movie but he would also get a soundtrack from the man and thus reach out to Bowie's extensive and loyal fans. There are several stories circulating why Bowie's soundtrack never materialised. One is that Bowie submitted a score which Roeg deemed unsuitable or unusable or that Bowie had a hissy fit when he discovered that he would be just one composer considered for providing the soundtrack. Whatever the reason, John Phillips of the Mamas and The Papas fame got the gig.

Ironically, only a few cover versions by Phillips made the soundtrack with much of it made up of old hits by such artists as Roy Orbison, Bing Crosby, Hank Snow, Jim Reeves, The Kingston Trio and Artie Shaw. The vast majority of the soundtrack employed the talents of Japanese percussionist Stomu Yamashta.

The film's original opening scene was apparently edited to Pink Floyd's Breathe from their then new release Dark Side of The Moon. Maybe the Floyd wanted too much money or refused to let their music be used is not known but, an edited version of Yamashta's Poker Dice was eventually used in the film.

Yamashta's music is used to great effect throughout the film. A violent sex scene between Rip Torn and a young nymphette is intercut with Bowie watching a Kabuki perfomance to the percussive 33 1/3, whilst a tender love scene between Bowie and his co-star Candy Clark is underscored by the beautiful Wind Words - a song to melt the coldest heart. A very Pink Floyd like Memories of Hiroshima works to great effect in a chilling scene as Bowie transforms into his true alien form.

Rumours abound of tapes of Bowie's lost soundtrack locked away in vaults never to see the light of day. There have even been bootlegs released claiming to be Bowie's soundtrack, under the title, The Visitor (a reference to a record Newton makes for his wife in the film). It's a safe bet that these either don't exist or are poorly produced fakes. The reality is that the only known Bowie music to have its origins in The Man Who Fell To Earth are Weeping Wall and Subterraneans which turned up in a dramatically re-recorded form on Bowie's groundbreaking classic Low. NB: Some 24 years after its release Bowie performed the entire Low album live to an enraptured audience in New York.

Although, the end titles and the posters for The Man Who Fell To Earth mentioned the availability of a soundtrack, it never materialised and as a result fans like myself have been forced to forage around to find the various tracks, many of which are long deleted or not available digitally, that make up the Man Who Fell To Earth soundtrack.

For those of you interested in the background to this fascinating film, an excellent article on The Man Who Fell To Earth is available Here