Last year, I finally read Philip K. Dick's VALIS, which was inspired in part by Dick's own experience of seeing The Man Who Fell to Earth and feeling that David Bowie was using the film to subliminally communicate with certain people--like Dick--who had undergone mystical revelations and needed confirmation that their notion of reality was true. It's an amazing novel, but was a difficult read for me until it gets to the awesome part where the main character sees the novel's version of The Man Who Fell To Earth and tries to track down the rock star who made it. There's even a character based on Brian Eno. It's brilliant and deep, of course, but it's the combination of rock stars and science fiction that really does it for me, as you may have picked up from my ramblings about my own novel.
So, last month, I finally got around to reading the novel "The Man Who Fell To Earth" by Walter Tevis, who also wrote "The Hustler" and "The Color of Money." It's a bit slow in the beginning, but by the end I was totally in love with it. It's a much saner, sadder, and more subtle story than what makes it through in the film. I'm a sucker for fiction about alienation and this book is nothing but. The two main characters are both so alone and uncertain of themselves, and that gives the novel somewhat untraditional pacing. I really like low key science fiction like this and VALIS. The sensitivity in the writing hinted that it was a personal subject, but I was still surprised to learn that Tevis describes the novel as a "disguised autobiography." The alien Thomas Jerome Newton's experiences on Earth are strongly informed by Tevis' childhood move from San Francisco to rural Kentucky as a child, a long illness that kept him bedridden and fragile, and his yet unrealized alcoholism.
After reading the novel, I desperately needed to see the film again and this time was disappointed. I know a film's a different artifact than a novel and it's created by a different artist (or artists) and I'm not usually someone who watches the film of a book angrily noting each thing that's been changed, but man, oh man, I'd really love to see a straight retelling of the book. I feel like Roeg really flattened the story by dropping out the soul-searching alien messiah angle and replacing it with comic antics and largely irrelevant sex scenes.
A brief poke around the internet suggests that there is both a new film version and a Broadway musical in production at the moment. Not sure if either stands much chance of being made. Apparently, there's also a 1987 television pilot staring Lewis Smith (aka Perfect Tommy from Buckaroo Banzai) as the alien. Might be worth tracking down. Also, there's a film of Dick's Radio Free Albemuth, which is in some ways a first draft of Valis, coming out this year, and Paul Giamatti is slated to release a Philip K. Dick biopic next year, which could be very interesting as well.