Wednesday, 9 March 2011
Nicolas Roeg is one of Britain’s greatest living directors, a true auter of British cinema. Unfortunately, any film he has touched in the last twenty years has turned to shit. For that, we can maybe blame the studio’s for demanding audience friendly pictures because that is something that Roeg, at his peak, failed to produce. Here are three of Roeg’s greatest films…
Performance (1970) I had the pleasure of discovering this beauty as a young teenager when BBC2 screened it as part of their much mourned Moviedrome season. At once, the film struck me with utmost horror and completely befuddled my then fragile mind. For months afterwards, it was all I could think of; the writhing of bodies, the jump-cuts, the match-cuts, the soundtrack and the incongruities. It initially seemed so wrong, but felt so fucking right-on. Nicolas Roeg co-directed this with Donald Cammel, and although there is room for argument over whose film this actually is, if you continue to peruse the Roeg catalogue you will see that his style was developed right here and that cannot be denied. You don’t sit through Performance eating popcorn with a smile on your face, you sit with your eyes wide open and let the film consume you. It will chew you up and spit you out leaving you wet and hungry for more.
Walkabout (1971) Bizarrely, I recall this being shown on a television with steel legs and wheels in a classroom at junior school. What the hell were the teachers thinking? The film begins with a deranged dad driving his two kids into the Australian outback, they picnic and play and then the dad gets a gun out, attempts to kill his kids, they run away and he shoots himself full-on in the face. As kids we spent the rest of the film sniggering at the Aborigine boys’ backside and blushing at the sight of Jenny Agutter’s breasts. My only juvenile memory of the film was the fleshy parts so watching it again as I got older proved quite a shock. It’s incredibly dark and like Performance is intelligently littered with unpredictable match/cuts, but the plot itself is more linear and accessible. The overall mis en scene is incredibly romantic and evocative of a love story, over its actual theme - a story of survival.
Don’t Look Now (1973) Roeg is the perfect director to tell this brutal story of grief, loss and love and often intercuts all three aspects of the plot within singular scenes to create one of the most memorable supernatural horror movies ever. The most terrifying aspect of Don’t Look Now is that it begins with the tragic loss of a child. The rest of the film is a study of the mourning process and the improbabilities of moving on. The father (Donald Sutherland) obsesses over a figure in a red coat, similar to the one his daughter is wearing when she dies. The revelation of the figure being death itself is one of the most shockingly memorable and genuinely eeriest scenes ever witnessed in film. The reason Don’t Look Now is so damn frightening is because its roots are deeply based in realism and genuine human emotion. Most famously, the film features the love scene with Sutherland and Julie Christie that generated controversy with the idiots at the Daily Mail in its day, as it contains one of the first mainstream outings of cunnilingus. This is nothing though, compared to Lars Von Trier’s study of parental grief, Antichrist (2009), the Daily Mail’s collective heart would simply burst with rage at that. The love scene has been imitated to a lesser extent in other movies including Steven Soderbergh’s Out of Sight (1998) and the film as a whole has been referenced in others including Flatliners (1990) and In Bruges (2008).
Other Roeg films worth mentioning are, The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976), Bad Timing (1980), Track 29 (1988) and The Witches (1990)