Archive for February, 2009

“Don’t Look Now” (Nicolas Roeg 1973)

22 February 2009

Those who fear spoilers should, er, not look now.

Here we have a classic example of the seventies ending, you know the one where it’s sort of downbeat, but you can’t be sure, because there’s no real sense of resolution. Amidst much waving around of hands. Only it’s a variant, it’s sort of upbeat, but you can’t be sure. Laura (Julie Christie) is on her way to the funeral of her murdered husband John (Donald Sutherland) with her only surviving child. And she’s smiling.

Here we have Roeg’s editing technique used on a psychic thriller, an adaptation of a Du Maurier novella – which annoyingly I do not seem to possess – in which a holidaying couple rebuild their lives after the death of a daughter. In the story it is meningitus, in the film it is a drowning, which adds a layer of symbolism of water throughout the film as the main action is in Venice. John is looking at a slide of a church he is to restore, Laura is researching a question for their daughter, whilst John jr cycles across glass and Christine drowns.The intercutting links the characters, as if John knows what is happening outside, anticpates the space he is to go to, and includes a shot of Laura – leaving the house? going to her daughter’s funeral? going to her husband’s funeral? Spilt water across the slide leads to a dye bleed in the shape of the Venice lagoon.

In Venice – John packed off to a boarding school – the couple rebuild their lives and a church, only to run into two old dears, one of whom, Heather (Hilary Mason), is blind and psychic, and can see Christine. Laura is keen to learn more, whereas John is sceptical – Laura feels reinvigorated and secretly stops taking the medicine, but may be the victim of a con trick. John, meanwhile, is clearly psychic and some of the things we see him see have yet to happen. Heather wants him to leave town – but she is too late as he runs into the red coated dwarf who has been murdering people.

Prevented from following John by a gate he has locked, Laura can but yell after her darlings – John and Christine. We can but speculate as to why she is smiling – perhaps she has been reassured of her husband’s happiness by Heather, perhaps she is pregnant from the show-stopping sex scene from earlier in the film.

The film was released at about the time as The Wicker Man – in fact they played in a double bill – and The Exorcist, and anticipates The Omen in John’s accident in the church. It is definitely disturbing – although the climax is just a little ridiculous, albeit very European.



18 February 2009

I felt I needed a phrase for “the seventies ending, you know the one where it’s sort of downbeat, but you can’t be sure, because there’s no real sense of resolution.” Amidst much waving around of hands.

I pondered the model of eucatastrophe and its twin, dyscatastrophe, coined unless I miss a guess in Tolkien’s essay on fairy stories. What I’m after would appear to be ambicatastrophe. Only that slots together Latin and Greek (like television), which is a no no. Amphicatastrophe seems to be the beast – although as a tame Greek colleague spluttered, none of these words are legal. You can’t shove a prefix like that on an already compound word.

I’ve muttered something about it being good enough for Heidegger, but that might not be company I wish to keep.

18 February 2009

Edited to add:

I’ll quote J.R.R. Tolkien, from On Fairy-Tales, and thus blame him for the barbarism of the Greek:
The consolation of fairy-stories, the joy of the happy ending: or more correctly of the good catastrophe, the sudden joyous “turn” (for there is no true end to any fairy-tale): this joy […] is a sudden and miraculous grace: never to be counted on to recur. It does not deny the existence of dyscatastrophe, of sorrow and failure: the possibility of these is necessary to the joy of deliverance; it denies (in the face of much evidence, if you will) universal final defeat and in so far is evangelium, giving a fleeting glimpse of Joy, Joy beyond the walls of the world, poignant as grief.
What we have in most narratives is a situation which is threatened, and characters who therefore experience a reversal of fortune, or peripeteia which is then resolved. In tragedy, which Tolkien seems to be placing fairy-stories in opposition to, there is clearly a (dys)catastrophe, a death, but which leads to catharsis in the viewer/reader. For the eucatastrophe, it seems as if a second peripeteia is required, producing not quite catharsis, but the notion of grace and the potential of salvation. My notion of the amphicatastrophe is that there is no second reversal – and no salvation – and if there is catastrophe, it is not accompanied by catharsis. The amphicatastrophe resists any notion of being consolatory.

10 March 2009