News And Commentary – Bowie and the Inward Turn

We were taught that we should question all the established values, all the taboos, and that the one thing we must continually strive for was a sense of self and a sense of expanding our horizons.”

That was David Bowie, summarizing his interpretation of the lessons of the sixties, and how those lessons influenced his approach to music and to art more generally.  It was a credo that also well-described the ethos of the New Hollywood, with its restless, relentless, introspective explorations—what I have described elsewhere as “the inward turn.”  Dylan, as he often did, got their first, and was an enormous influence on the Beatles and countless others, including the young David Bowie—but these shared cultural sensibilities (and tastes) led to an intimate association (and mutual admiration society) between sixties rockers and New Hollywood filmmakers.   

Most of Bowie’s serious film appearances took place after all that, in the 1980s, most notably with The Hunger and Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence.  But he did lend his presence to one major 70s film, as The Man Who Fell To Earth (1976).  It’s a movie that doesn’t quite hold together, but the talent attached – including Bowie (convincingly otherworldly), Rip Torn (invariably compelling), Buck Henry (his best on-screen performance) and director Nicholas Roeg (as always, with a photographer’s eye for color and composition) – make the film well worth watching.  Arriving near the end of the New Hollywood era, Man Who Fell is saturated with the dispiriting overcast of Ford-era disillusionment, as alien Newton (Bowie) is undone not so much by the daunting challenge of his desperate mission as by the spiritual bankruptcy he finds in washed-out, materialist, mid-seventies America.  


The Man Who Fell 1

The Man Who Fell . . .


The Man Who Fell 2

  . . . Into 1970s America 


The Man Who Fell 3

The Man Who Fell to Earth

BONUS FOOTAGE: With Lou Reed, at Bowie's 50th Birthday Celebration, Madison Square Garden