Icarus falling, Lazarus rising:
revisiting reflections on The Man Who Fell to Earth
The #Icarus #Lazarus serialization continues tonight at 7.00 GMT with part VII, The Bowie-Newton. We’re passed the midpoint for this academic-turned-free-access essay on Roeg’s masterpiece but in this section it’s all about the Bowie-ness of Newton (and the Newton affect on Bowie). When it boils down to basics, the essay is all about tense and sense: the use of the past tense in the title, which implies the doomed fate of the lead character.
But the midway also seems an appropriate place to flip not just the tense but the verb. In line with today’s prompt, could the title be re-imagined as The Man Who Jumped to Earth? It’s the sort of question that asks about the ability of the character to take matters into his own hands since jump implies a voluntary act. Or does it? Bowie’s 1993 record Jump They Say continues his theme (and fear) of mental illness, and specifically references his brother’s suicide. Is suicide about jumping, falling or being pushed? Suicide is too often depicted as a voluntary act and one that conceals all the social pushing and falling that leads up to the final act.
Similarly, there’s a lot of jumping and pushing going on in the film, as the scientific, political and economic angels of death pursue those whose actions threaten their power. Newton isn’t the only one who falls. Farnsworth and his partner are both pushed out of their apartment building. You could argue these acts are dressed up to look like suicides. Farnsworth even apologises to his anonymous helmeted-assailants for not cooperating when his body is thrown against the window and only cracks it. Then again, he knows this is coming, fearing that his own greed and dealings have made him an enemy of the state. So did he jump or was he pushed?
And we could carry on asking this question of Newton, Bowie and – what I refer to in the scheduled post tonight – the Bowie-Newton, where a bit of each rubs off on the other. Who pushes who? Who jumps into the other? Who falls for the other? Those odd-sounding and vague questions point not just to the extraordinary star-affect Bowie has on the film, but how the identity of Newton is, like a Möbius Strip, incrementally part of his own identity. Who pushes them together? Roeg certainly felt they were meant to be one (read why tonight) but possibly Bowie had already jumped into being Newton in the documentary Cracked Actor (Yentob, 1973), which had so influenced Roeg.
Pushing, jumping, falling … they are variants of the same action. But just swapping them around leads to important questions about self-control and social power. Anyway, jump back here later for more on the Bowie-Newton.