It may be time to stop calling Nicolas Roeg's sexed-up sci-fi film that vaguely demeaning term---a cult classic---and start addressing it as what it is: the most intellectually provocative genre film of the 1970s. The allure of its perfectly cast star, David Bowie (emaciated and still months from going clean), overshadowed the content of the script in its day. Too easy, it was, to focus on Roeg's cheap-looking effects and the weirdness of the Thin White Duke himself---playing a forlorn alien who quietly builds an Earth-based space program---and ignore Roeg's rich testament to his own strange, adopted land: America.
Go back now and thrill to the movie's evocative terrain, stretching from the canyons of Manhattan to the wide, open spaces of the Southwest---a poetic place of motels, banal government stooges and wild, white horses running alongside trains. (This, by the way, is what a Thomas Pynchon adaptation should look like; the actual novel, by Walter Tevis, is much changed.) The ultimate embodiment of it all is the fearless Candy Clark, playing a sweet caretaker turned mystified lover. Rip Torn's horndog chemist, fighting off his own cynicism, is a close second. The tale is one of a meltdown, situated in a real-life national moment straddling paranoia and the inviting horizon; you can easily hold it up to Nashville, orange hair and all.
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