Nicolas Roeg

Nicolas Roeg, director of The Man Who Fell to Earth with David Bowie, dead at 90

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Nov 24, 2018

Nicolas Roeg—the highly influentual British filmmaker of the 1976 sci-fi cult classic The Man Who Fell to Earth with David Bowie—has sadly passed away at the age of 90. Roeg's passing was confirmed by The Hollywood Reporter, but no cause of death was given.

Known for his creative and stylistic uses of color, composition, time, and even sensuality, Roeg inspired modern-day directors like Christopher Nolan (Inception) and Danny Boyle (Sunshine). Specifically, Nolan has said that Memento would never have come to fruition without Roeg having paved the way in films like Performance and Walkabout.

"Roeg made a series of films through that era that were just astonishing… adult films, with adult themes, adult violence, adult sexuality. We’ve lost that, or we’re in danger of losing it," Boyle said in 2013.

Born in London, Roeg began his film career as an assistant editor, eventually working his way up to second-unit cinematographer and director on some really classic movies, like Lawrence of Arabia (1962) and Dr. Zhivago (1965), and even the comedic adaptation of Ian Fleming's James Bond novel Casino Royale (1967). In 1966, he served as the main director of photography for François Truffaut's 1966 adaptation of Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451. Roeg made his directorial debut four years later with Performance, a crime drama that also marked the first acting appearance of Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger.

Six years after that, Roeg would team up with another young rock star, David Bowie, for The Man Who Fell to Earth. Based on the 1963 science fiction novel of the same name by Walter Tevis, the movie starred Bowie (in his first-ever on-screen role) as Thomas Jerome Newton, an alien that comes to Earth, hoping to save his planet from a terrible drought. While on our planet, he falls in love and into the hands of greedy profiteers. The project also starred Rip Torn (Men in Black) and Candy Clark (American Graffiti).

In a 2013 interview with the Telegraph, Roeg remarked that he “really came to believe that Bowie was a man who had come to Earth from another galaxy. His actual social behaviour was extraordinary – he hardly mixed with anyone at all. He seemed to be alone – which is what Newton is in the film – isolated and alone.”

In the year since its initial release, The Man Who Fell to Earth has achieved cult status among cinephiles. Even the late Roger Ebert rounded up his original 2 1/2 star review to 3 stars when the film was re-released in 2011. On Rotten Tomatoes, the movie holds a fresh 83%, with the critical consensus reading:

"Filled with stunning imagery, The Man Who Fell to Earth is a calm, meditative film that profoundly explores our culture's values and desires."

However, The Man Who Fell to Earth wasn't Roeg's only genre feature. For instance, 1973 saw the release of Don't Look Now, a horror-thriller (based on a short story by Daphne du Maurier) that starred Donald Sutherland (The Hunger Games) and Julie Christie (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban) as grieving parents on holiday in Venice.

In 1990, Warner Bros. released The Witches, a fantasy-comedy (based on the book by Roald Dahl) about a young boy trying to stop a gathering of witches, even after they transform him into a mouse. Despite poor box-office performance and disapproval from Dahl over the ending, the movie fared well with mainstream critics. It was also nominated for several accolades at the Hugos, BAFTAs, and others.

Roeg's final feature film, Puffball: The Devil's Eyeball (2007), was supernatural/horror drama (based on the 1980 novel by Fay Weldon) about a pregnant architect. While reviews weren't stellar, the film did boast a cast that included Donald Sutherland, Miranda Richardson, and Kelly Reilly.

"I don't want to be ahead of my time," Roeg plainly stated in 2011. "This is my time. It's Marmite, isn't it? You like it or you don't."

The filmmaker is survived by his ex-wife, Theresa Russell, current wife, Harriet Harper, and his six children.


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