'The Man Who Fell to Earth' Cinematographer on David Bowie’s "Defining Role"

Tony Richmond, David Bowie, The Man Who Fell To Earth - H 2015
Credit: David James

The 4K restoration of the 1976 cult classic — completed with the approval of Tony Richmond — has been re-released theatrically in the U.K.

When the film industry pored over David Bowie’s cinema catalog after the icon tragically passed away in January, The Man Who Fell to Earth was commonly recognized as being his signature role.

Nicholas Roeg’s surreal 1976 science fiction film  which appropriately enough won Bowie the Saturn Award for best actor  saw the Starman almost typecast as a hyper-intelligent extraterrestrial (albeit one who develops a taste for gin and TV).

But while the world mourned the loss of one of its brightest lights, StudioCanal's 4K restoration of The Man Who Fell to Earth was already underway to celebrate the film’s 40th anniversary.

Now re-released in the U.K. and with a U.S launch planned for later this year, the film has brought Bowie back to the big screen, with a soundtrack due out Sept. 23 and a new Blu-ray coming next month.

“It’s so wonderful to see it again,” says cinematographer Tony Richmond, who returned to his native U.K. from L.A. to sign off on the restoration. “They did a fabulous job.”

Richmond fondly recalls the shoot  with an all-British crew  out in New Mexico, and says he knew that then even, long before the film earned cult status, they were onto “something special.”

“It was so different, from both a style and directing point of view,” he says. “And it was so different in the way Bowie played it. I can’t imagine any other actor in that role. It wasn’t just his defining role, but it was the role for him. He kind of glided through it like an alien, and with his face with that white, pasty skin, he was just absolutely perfect.”

Although Bowie joined the film coming out of a major cocaine phase, Richmond says that he stuck to his promise and remained clean throughout the shoot (he had people looking after him  including a bodyguard who also had a cameo role in the film as a chauffeur). But the pair did manage to sneak away one night for a few drinks.

“He climbed out of the bedroom window in the hotel and climbed back in so nobody knew,” he laughs. “We just had a couple of vodka and tonics  it was fun. He was a wonderful man, very amiable, and always knew his lines.”

Richmond, still active as a cinematographer (he’s currently shooting in Atlanta), saw Bowie only a few times after they finished The Man Who Fell to Earth, although he said he’d always be sent tickets to his L.A. concerts.

“Some of the crew that I worked with, they’ve also moved onto the other planet with Bowie, they’re on the same spaceship," he says. "There’s a lot of sadness there  there were some people that I was really fond of. But it was such a great experience.”