The men who fell to henna

The men who fell to henna, December 1982

Paul Fillingham

Chris and I had returned to his parents house after a night on the town. We’d been dancing, drinking red witch and giving away Smart Cookies demo tapes in Nottingham’s Rock City nightclub. The ‘Futurist’ nights were always interesting, as the venue became awash with fashion victims from all walks of life: Gary Numan garage mechanics, David Sylvian shop assistants, Duran Duran school-kids, nurses in ra-ra skirts and the Bauhaus unwashed. Maybe a couple of years behind what was going on in art school but nevertheless, delightful and liberating, to the point that ‘doing’ Rock City had quickly become a necessary ritual whenever we were home from our respective courses in Leeds and Liverpool.

Ainsley Road had its ritualised comforts too: With Chris’ Mum and Dad tucked-up in bed, we’d occupy their armchairs, catching up on current affairs, drinking coffee and passing comment on whatever was being shown on TV. Although most TV channels would be closing-down for the night, BBC 2 would sometimes show an art-house movie until the early hours. Tonight we were in luck, the ‘beeb’ were screening Nicolas Roeg’s sci-fi movie The Man Who Fell To Earth, starring David Bowie as a visiting alien. I was still at school when the film was originally released and so I had never actually seen it.

Bowie’s portrayal of the frail alien fainting in a hotel lift is a classic scene that only someone with his gangly frame could pull off convincingly. Years later I would have a full blown argument with an American film student on Internet Relay Chat (IRC) who criticised Bowie’s ‘wooden’ delivery’ after failing to see that Bowie was merely displaying the default English disposition for stiffness, social ineptitude and bumbling around aimlessly. However, I must admit to laughing at his witty take on the title: ‘The Man Who Fell to Acting’.

There were several memorable scenes it the film. I particularly liked the widescreen, wild-west flashbacks and the jump-cut sex scenes, where college lecturer, played by Rip Torn, gets laid for dishing-out good grades. We had fun casting our own friends in the various roles too, with pale faced hippy, Ivan Pastuch playing the alien and one of our former lecturers hitting on gullible students in the college darkroom.

There was also the scene where female lead Candy Clark urinates involuntarily after seeing the alien’s face for the first time. A detail relayed to me as a schoolboy by my friends Martin Austin and Malcolm Percival who managed to con their way into the ABC cinema in Mansfield, gaining an intimate knowledge of adult-rated movies. However, the thing that left the biggest impression on Friday night was Bowie’s bright golden hair and crimson fringe. We were so enthralled that the very next day we made a special pilgrimage to Nottingham’s Victoria Centre in order to acquaint ourselves with the alien world of ‘wash-in wash-out’ hair dyes.

Falling to earth, we landed in Boots the chemist with its overpowering, perfumed air and caramel-faced ladies serving behind brightly lit concession stands. There was something distinctly ‘odd’ about two young twenty-year old guys, loitering alongside old ladies who were routinely picking up bottles of purple rinse. Like Bowie, we were the aliens and spent far too much time examining the mysterious items on the shelves. As if colour matching wasn’t a challenge in itself, inside each box of hair dye was an instruction leaflet the size of a paperback book! Eventually, we were rescued by a kindly-faced store assistant who sensing our hesitancy, provided us with the necessary chemicals to reinvent ourselves as ‘The Men Who Fell to Henna.’

‘The man who fell to earth’ on IMDB