Posts Tagged ‘roeg’

“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.

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The Man who Fell to Earth (Nicolas Roeg, 1976)

18 January 2009

This is a remarkably faithful adaptation of Walter Tevis’s novel. To summarize: something crashes in an American lake, and a hooded figure struggles across a landscape, making money by selling gold rings. This is Thomas Jerome Newton (David Bowie), who buys the services of a patent lawyer Oliver Farnsworth (Buck Henry) to launch a series of new technological inventions upon an unsuspecting public. As the increasingly wealthy Newton starts a life with former hotel maid Mary-Lou (Candy Clark), a chemistry professor Nathan Bryce (Rip Torn) is first employed by and then fascinated with Newton. Both Mary-Lou and Nathan discover the truth: Newton is an alien, funding his trip back to his drought-stricken home planet. Before the launch can happen, he is captured by government agents and Farnsworth is killed.

It is the final third of the film that is most changed – the mechanics of the unravelling of Newton’s plan, and the moment of capture. There’s a sense of a longer timespan, as all the characters save Newton age significantly. One piece of future world building is having a senior agent (Bernie Casey) as African American with a white wife; the establishment of Farnsworth as homosexual but not criticised as such is perhaps also along these lines. Mary-Lou had been Betty-Jo, and the more philandering Bryce meets  Newton at the latter’s invitation rather than by a trick. Toward the end Newton’s contact lens are fixed onto his eyes, rather than blinding him.

Roeg’s style – which he had displayed to even more complexity with Donald Cammell in Performance (1970) – is to intercut quite different materials: typically sex scenes unfold in parallel with other actions, and flashbacks and anticipations become indistinguishable. It is ambiguous, say, whether Newton is remembering his home life, or these are parallel events. He is able to see pioneer era America alongside the present. And when his family are looking at a kind of flexible television screen, it almost feels like they are watching the events of the film.

Surveillance is a recurrent trope – and watching: obviously in Newton’s eyes, but also in glasses, mirrors, telescopes and cameras. Newton sells his first ring in a shop that also sells television, and a television is the first thing he asks for. He has learned about Earth from watching television, and continues his education by watching about nine at once. It is his own technology that betrays him to Bryce, just as a book of (photographed) paintings first link the two. Newton is of course under surveillance – his driver is an agent – but this seems to be from the moment he crashed on Earth. Was he tracked through space? Were the authorities told he was coming? Or do they just spy on everything?

The painting Bryce looks at is Brueghel’s painting of Icarus, a man who fell to earth and drowned, whilst everyone else goes about their business (we are able to read Auden’s poem “Musee des Beaux Arts” which in part describes the canvas). Newton has fallen to earth – the name suggests gravity – but there’s perhaps also the sense in this version that he is also Fallen; Mary-Lou’s Eve introducing him to alcohol and sex. Eventually, he is betrayed, of course.

Bowie is excellent – and brings his various personae with him. As a Brit in the US he is of course an alien (and director Roeg, producer Deeley and the crew were also aliens). Roeg had worked with a rock star in Performance – Mick Jagger – and cast Art Gunfunkel in Bad Timing (1980), which I can live without. I guess I ought to take a look at Don’t Look Now (1973), although that’s more fantasy than sf.