10 Essential Nicolas Roeg Films You Need To Watch
5. Bad Timing: A Sensual Obsession (1980)
Set in Vienna, this is a confronting, deeply disturbing and explicit drama about sexual obsession and jealously. Theresa Russell (the director’s wife) plays Milena, the classic American free spirited girl running amok in Europe. Singer Art Gafunkel plays a buttoned down psychologist who falls under her spell.
Astounding in its visual confidence and non-linear editing and narrative, the studio who made this, the Rank Organization, all but dumped this film with poor distribution, shocked and scandalised (shades of what happened to “Performance” again), by the idiosyncratic, highly charged, original and provocative film that Roeg made for them. Their loss. This remains something of a ‘lost classic’ in the man’s back catalogue. Recently released on DVD by Criterion Collection, if you’re a Roeg fan and have never seen this, please do yourself a favour.
4. Performance (1970) Co-directed by Donald Cammell
Warner Brothers, obviously looking for a star vehicle for then white hot Rolling Stones front man Mick Jagger, greenlit what they thought would be a bit of throwaway product that would make them some money with the teen market. They got far, far more than they bargained for in the form of “Peformance”.
A psychological drama/head fuck set in London, it concerns Chas (James Fox in a brilliant turn), a gangster on the run from his superiors for a extreme stuff up that has basically put an order of death on his head.
He hides out in the mansion of the reclusive Turner (Jagger), a former rock star, and his two female companions. Adding further blurring of the lines between fact and fiction, one of the girls was played by Anita Pallenberg, the at the time girlfriend of fellow Stone Keith Richards.
A dense, sweaty, cloying experience, “Performance”, from its opening frame, gets completely in your face and refuses to leave. A compelling depiction of the concept of being and how it can blur and merge between beings, this is an absolute one of a kind experience and a true must who like their cinema to walk on the challenging and wild side of life.
It also starting something of a running motif for Roeg as a director. “Performance” showcases possibly the only single truly effective use of Mick Jagger as an actor. Roeg would further use rock stars in his films, namely David Bowie in “The Man Who Fell To Earth” and Art Gufunkel in “Bad Timing: A Sensual Obsession”.
3. Walkabout (1971)
Roeg’s first solo outing as a director. “Walkabout” is a stunning, truly haunting drama set in the Australian Outback. Two young British children, played by Jenny Augutter and the director’s son, Luc, are left orphans after the suicide death of their father. They are, by dire circumstance, forced to fend for themselves. Trying to live from day to day, they meet a young Aboriginal man (David Gulpilil) on his ‘walkabout’, part of his rites of passage to becoming a man in his Aboriginal tribe.
A powerful examination of culture clash and the opposing philosophies of nature and civilisation, this was a stunning achievement in cinema and marked Roeg as a truly individual and unique talent.
2. Don’t Look Now (1973)
That promise and potential you saw in “Walkabout”? Roeg’s follow up film, the extraordinary “Don’t Look Now” turned everything brilliant you saw there up to ten. This was the film where his idea of non-linear narrative and a fractured sense of chronology really found its feet.
Based on the short story by author Daphne Du Maurier, the story concerns a couple grieving the loss of their young daughter. On holiday in Venice after her death, their lives take several turns for the unexplainable and unpredictable.
While having elements of horror to it, this is not a horror film. Simply put, it is much more. The performances from lead actors Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie really give the story a strong and palpable sense of feeling and emotional depth.
In this film, Roeg hits such an incredible balance between telling a compelling story in a visually striking way while, at the same time, never losing sight of the emotional element that gives the film its impact with the viewer.
A borderline flawless work, “Don’t Look Now” is quite possibly one of the best films ever made in the Seventies. If Roeg had done nothing after this, he would still have a place in the history of cinema due to this astounding film.
1. The Man Who Fell To Earth (1976)
Based on the novel by SF author Walter Tevis, this was a lacerating and unflinching film. Notorious for its highly intimate and explicit sex scenes, there is, as most of Roeg’s work, more than meets the eye with “The Man Who Fell To Earth”. Armed with an elliptical, compelling script by his regular collaborator Paul Mayersberg, this tells the tale of Thomas Jerome Newton (David Bowie), an alien who comes to Earth to look for water for his dying planet.
Along the way, he meets Mary-Lou (a delightful Candy Clark) and, through a series of events, is seduced and eventually broken by Earthly vices such as alcohol, television, sex and business.
A scathing, unflinching look at the corporate world in America and deeply philosophical and questioning of the lives that we lead as people, “The Man Who Fell To Earth”, nearly forty years since its release, stands as Roeg’s masterpiece.
Intelligent, thought provoking and possessing imagery that will burn itself into your brain (such as the scene where Bowie is haunted by the multiple stacks of televisions in front of him), this is an unforgettable work.
Similar to “Don’t Look Now” and his take on the horror film, Roeg is no genre director. A Brit, he brings this singular, unique and defiantly ‘different’ attitude to the way he depicts America and its people. Along with many other elements that it has in its possession, this is one of the things that makes “The Man Who Fell To Earth” such a brilliant film.
David Bowie playing an alien? Genius casting!
Author Bio: Neil is a journalist, labourer, forklift and truck driver. In a previous life, he was a projectionist for ten years. He is a lifelong student of cinema.
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