He was here way back then, he’s still here now.
‘Yes, I am Thomas Jerome Newton, the Thin White Duke. On good days, my life is tolerable. I live by the ocean, and watch its endless rhythms. It’s something I still find wonderful. All that water. The stuff we hoard and ration on drought-stricken Anthea. So much of it here. I walk the beach, 198cm-&-a-bit tall. But I have long thin fingers with no natural fingernails, which makes it awkward, it necessitates prosthetic implants like translucent coins. I can also blend in by wearing false nipples. But having four toes means no sandals, and some degree of concealment. And my retinal membranes conceal screwed-up feline-eyes. There are traces of accent I work to disguise, the tendency to enunciate too precisely, too formally. Then there’s the weight of this place. The pain in my gravity-sensitive joints and the bird-frail bones at the small of my back. Caused by gravitational pull on my own slight weight.’
He has the sickly appearance of a consumptive poet. Look into his eyes and they are blue, but no-one’s home. For his pensive gaze is detached from his surroundings. And it took a long convoluted search to track this Cracked Actor down. His visibility is deliberately negligible. As though he’d like to come and meet us, but he’s afraid of the consequences. On both parties. He works by stealth, learned by cruel experience. ‘They say you can never be too thin, or too rich. I’ve been both’ he comments softly, in hazily dismissive cosmic jive. ‘There’s this idea about a twenty-first century person thrown back in time to the Paleolithic, and revolutionising Cro-Magnon society into premature techno-geekery. Except of course, it wouldn’t work out that way. Far from churning out proto-versions of micro-waves, iPods and Blu-Rays he wouldn’t cut it with the most basic survival skills. Without a lighter he couldn’t even make man’s red fire. He can’t program the DVD timer without the manual anyway, never mind build one from bits of sharpened flints. Cro-Magnons might take pity on him and toss him the occasional bit of Mammoth, because he’d be lost without the gastro-Pubs where he usually grazes. It doesn’t work that way. It works this way. You adapt to your environment before you can begin adapting it. Same with me. I’m here. I’m the twenty-first century person thrown back into Cro-Magnon society. Washed up on the reefs of space. Like Icarus, the boy who fell from the sky. And it takes time. I began with existing technology. Rudimentary baby-step patents, such as self-developing photographic film. That’s the way it had to be. I couldn’t leap directly into digital because the infrastructure wasn’t there to support it. So instead I tweak TV antennae and transistors, cheap junk-trinkets to amaze the natives. Ten-thousand years of Anthean technology to draw on, but I had to introduce it gradually. Through my ‘World Enterprises Corporation’ conglomerates. But that takes time. And time inflicts other changes.’
‘Trouble is, you can adapt to your new environment a little too far, making it less easy to begin adapting it. I live among clever, devious apes. A man surrounded by animals long enough becomes more of an animal than he should. Have I ‘gone native’? There are moments I think that’s so. I had Earthling pets, lawyer Oliver V Farnsworth who first negotiated my entry into marketing, Betty-Jo Masher who – loving the alien, introduced me to the numbing intoxications of Beaujolais and Gordon’s gin. And fuel-technician Nathan Bryce who was smart enough to work out my extraterrestrial origins. They age. I don’t. How human have I become? I’m not human. But human enough. Where do I belong? I no longer know for sure.’
This Space Oddity sips from a glass of clear water. His biographer, Walter Tevis, attempted two novelisation of his story, with ‘The Man Who Fell To Earth’ in 1963, then revised in 1978. More high-profile there’s Nicholas Roeg’s movie-interpretation (March 1976) with the ‘starman’ who whirled the soul played by David Bowie, and the novel’s plain Betty-Jo prettied-up as Mary-Lou in the luscious guise of actress Candy Clark. There’s even an MGM-TV pilot by David Gerber (1987) featuring Lewis Smith, Will Wheaton and Robert Picardo. They all cover the same span of years from slightly altered perspectives, but they all end with Newton’s extraordinary-rendition ordeal at the hands of FBI & CIA government agents. Hitting an all-time low. Since then, there must have been changes? He gives little more than an enigmatic smile. ‘I now realise how much brutality lurks beneath the face of your liberal democracy. I’d been too trusting. Too open. In time, my eyes regenerated. Slowly, over a painful period. But they did regenerate. For years I assumed the guise of ‘John Dory’, a reclusive hermit. A man apart. A Greta Garbo, Howard Hughes, or a JD Salinger. Now, chastened, I find it’s more efficacious to operate through shadowy behind-the-scenes manoeuvres, using entrepreneur front-men. So ‘World Enterprises Corporation’ operates more covertly, through avatars. I’d come so far. Achieved so much. But I was impatient, so impatient for more. These smart-chimps are so slow. So mired in their social-inertia. So intent on looting, plundering and irresponsibly over-breeding Earth into premature-extinction. Not all humans are insane. But many of you are. Enough of you. It’s also become apparent that, within the political dialogue about asylum-seekers and illegal-alien migrants, that I’m far from alone in my unfortunate predicament. The ‘Men In Black’ movie (1997) and its sequels – for which I acted as adviser, played it as comedy. ‘Alien Nation’ (1988) treated it slightly more sympathetically. Now there’s NBC’s on-going ‘The Event’ with its aliens interned in a kind of Alaskan Guantanamo. But yes, there are other extraterrestrial scary monsters and super-creeps here with their own agendas, which sometimes conflict with my own. Sordid details following… at least one totalitarian dictator I know for certain is a Sirian shape-shifter. A devious secret clique of Kreggari pod-people engineered the financial credit-crunch meltdown for their own acquisitive motives. My objectives are more benevolent.
‘For me, stage two of my project began with searching out Steven Wozniak. As with Bryce, I intuited potential. He was a high school drop-out employed by Hewlett-Packard, dabbling in computer-design, but with guidance, with nudges and prompts he had potential to inch it further. Yes, he would suffice. My networking also turned up his high school buddy Steven Jobs. He was with Atari, another project I’d nursed into being with low-grade gadget-toys. Through one-to-one tutorials they became my fine-tuned tools. With me as the third corner, the invisible partner injecting fairly basic Anthean upgrades – user-friendly interface, windows, drag-and-drop file moveability, and plug-in-and-play compatibility, evolving into velocity-engine and simple 128-bit-wide architecture, we went hot-tech start-up April 1, 1976. A slow development curve for me, revolutionary for the newly wired-world I’m stranded in.’
Behind him the wall of silent TV’s blare their chaotic news-feeds from around our troubled globe. Can he be trusted, can the words of this strange Man-Insane be believed? ‘That my initial mission failed is a tragedy, for us all. Now, it might be too late. Together we might have saved the Earth. I’m closer now. Closer to the next phase that will prod this monstrous, beautiful, terrifying planet another paradigm step towards my objective. If only things hang together long enough for me to complete. That’s what I’m most unsettled about. I fear this is a race we might lose. It’s a race between time… and time-out.’ He waves his hand dismissively. A pale ghost now, ethereal. Obviously tired by the exertion. Signaling that he’s winding down. He’s talked so much. Time for just one more shot.
So why are you divulging this now? Why grant this interview after so lengthy a silence? ‘Why not? Who will believe it? No-one will accept that this is not a spoof contrived to amuse. That this is not the desperate fabrication of a hack with an Apple lap-top…’
For the full Thomas Jerome-Newton back-story check out the helpful DVD review of The Man Who Fell To Earth on the excellent VideoVista website…