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Thursday April 25th 2024

The Man Who Fell To Earth | 1976

The Man Who Fell To Earth location: White Sands National Monument, New Mexico
The Man Who Fell To Earth location: the home planet of visitor Thomas Jerome Newton: White Sands National Monument, New Mexico | Photograph: wikimedia / Jennifer Willbur

With his ethereal screen presence and strangely mismatched eyes, David Bowie is perfectly cast as the unearthly Thomas Jerome Newton in Nicolas Roeg’s anti-naturalistic mosaic – although Jurassic Park author Michael Crichton was the director’s first choice for the role – probably due to the fact that the writer was six feet nine inches tall.

The film was made almost entirely on real locations in New Mexico, though there are a few glimpses of New York as Newton’s techie empire is being set up.

Newton plummets into the waters of Fenton Lake, Fenton Lake State Park, 455 Fenton Lake Road, Jemez Springs, 33 miles northeast of San Ysidro. After becoming phenomenally rich from marketing advanced technology, it’s on the shore of the lake he builds his private retreat.

The blackened mountainside down which he stumbles is just south of the small town of Madrid. A historic coal mining town – later ghost town – nestled in a narrow canyon in the Ortiz Mountains, Madrid is now an arty community with shops, galleries and museum. It’s on Route 14 – the famous Turquoise Trail – southwest of Santa Fe. The ramshackle old mining buildings seen in the film stood for many years, but have have finally been removed.

The desert town, where he takes up with Mary Lou (Candy Clark), is Artesia, way down in the southeast corner of the state, 30 miles north of Carlsbad. There’s been a lot of development since 1976 and, sadly, the Hotel Artesia in which Newton stays surrounded by TV sets, is now gone. You can still see Artesia’s quirky little railroad station, glimpsed in the film from the hotel’s window.

The church, where Newton joins the congregation to croak his way through Jerusalem, is the First Presbyterian Church, 402 West Grand Avenue, Artesia.

As big business muscles in on Newton’s empire, patents lawyer Oliver Farnsworth (Buck Henry) talks with mysterious fixer Peters (Bernie Casey) by the cubist fountain in Albuquerque’s Civic Plaza, at 3rd Street and Tijeras Avenue NW.

Resigned to the fact that he can never return home, Newton slips into alcoholic oblivion, sequestered away in a locked suite at the Hotel Plaza, now renovated as the Hotel Andaluz, 125 2nd Street NW, Albuquerque.

Standing in for the scorchingly barren surface of Newton’s planet is the dazzling white gypsum sand of White Sands National Monument, Alamogordo, off I-70 in southern New Mexico.

Covering 275 square miles, this is the world's largest gypsum dunefield, though only the top few inches of the dunes are loose sand. Rainwater dissolves some of the gypsum, cementing the sand grains together to form a solid layer which makes for easier walking than you might think.

You’ll find the visitor center on Highway US-70, between the cities of Alamogordo and Las Cruces.

It’s worth remembering that this is also home to the White Sands Missile Range, and when they’re testing their missiles, US-70, and sometimes the park itself, may be closed.