January 2, 2017


Nicolas Roeg (1928-) b. London, England.

Nicolas Roeg

British cameraman, writer and director who makes stylish if sometimes infuriating entertainment’s that often deal with mental disturbance or other-worldly qualities. His first film as solo director, Walkabout (1971), was justly acclaimed by the critics – and public – as a vividly different entertainment, but opinion has been divided on his work since then, and he remains a painstaking perfectionist, as his record – ten feature films in 23 years – demonstrates. He began his career as an apprentice editor with MGM British at 18 but, apart from writing the story for A Prize of Arms in 1961, stuck to improving his career as a cinematographer from the mid-1950s. He was second-unit photographer on Lawrence of Arabia (1962), shooting desert action scenes, before winning praise for his colour camerawork on The Masque of the Red Death (1964) and Nothing But the Best (1963), both made the following year. He was second unit director on Judith (1965), then photographed and co-directed the extraordinary Performance (1970) which, despite the sex and violence it contained, critics and public alike seemed to find unapproachable. The sun-drenched, Australian desert of Walkabout (1971), which also made rare good use of Jenny Agutter‘s special qualities, was followed by a contrastingly cold Venice as the setting of Roeg’s supernatural thriller-cum-sexploitation film, Don’t Look Now (1973), whose surface tedium was occasionally disturbed by deliberately baffling visual references culminating in horrifying death. Though the film’s reputation has grown among those who managed to stay awake, its principal attraction at the time was a widely publicised central sex scene between Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland. A very similar atmosphere – boredom, bafflement and a frisson of the unexpected, coupled with heavy sex scenes pervaded The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976). But the sex, storytelling and unease fell together in the right pattern for Roeg in Bad Timing (1980). Its opening sequence looks like a suicide attempt by a girl, after a tiff with her boyfriend. But gradually, horrifyingly, Roeg prises the relationship apart to reveal her analyst lover as a psychopath. He has driven the girl to such a step by persistent misunderstanding, and has worse in store for her; it’s unpalatable but brilliantly made. Roeg continued to challenge his audiences through the 1980s. At the end of the decade, he made his most commercially successful film in 15 years with a truly delightful adaptation of Roald Dahl’s children’s story The Witches (1990), maintaining a fevered pace in its battle between good and evil. His taste for bizarre erotica, though, rather seemed to run away with his career in the 1990s. Divorced from the British actress Susan Stephen, Roeg later married the Hollywood star Theresa Russell.

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