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Thread: Nic Roeg

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    His brilliant career



    How did Nicolas Roeg go from lowly cameraman to the legendary director of Don't Look Now, Performance and The Man Who Fell to Earth? In a rare interview, he tells all to Jason Wood. Read the full, unedited transcript



    Friday June 3, 2005

    The Guardian



    Jason Wood: Good evening ladies and gentlemen. As you may have guessed, I'm not Nick Broomfield - I don't have his good looks or his charm. Nick is working on a new film and asked me to step in at the last minute, and I was absolutely delighted. I grew up with this man's film posters on my walls - and I still have one of them - and I think he's responsible for, at a conservative estimate, four or five of the greatest films ever made. So you'll have to forgive my unbridled, boyish enthusiasm tonight when I present to you Nicolas Roeg.





    Nicolas Roeg: I'd like to know which of the posters you destroyed.

    JW: Actually I sold them and did rather well out of it, I must say. Let's begin by talking a little bit about your passion for cinema, and how you originally became interested in cinema and started working in it, because you have a very long history in it.



    NR: Well, in the words of Star Wars, it was a long, long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away. I knew nothing about the cinema. When I went to the cinema as a boy, when I saw a war film, I thought the general was the star, and that Cary Grant was an extra. I had no idea about the structure of film, but I loved going to the cinema. I'd go with my sister, who loved to see them twice - it was continuous performance, in those days. Film and the cinema in England at that time was not thought of as it is now. It was not one of the arts - it was the movies.



    Many years later, I sat on a censorship committee and I said, they've just stopped censorship for the theatre - Lord Chamberlain's office had just finished - so why are we discussing it for film? And one of the people in the committee - I won't say who it was, but a politician said, "You must understand, the theatre is a mandarin tradition in England." What do you mean by that? He said, "Anybody can just walk into cinema, but in theatre, you make a conscious effort and it's part of the culture". When I started, I'd tell my girlfriends' mothers that I was studying to be a lawyer or something in the city, in business. It was somehow shameful to be in the film business.



    There were no film schools or anything, so I got a job with a man who owned a little studio that had been making war films, documentaries and things. So I started making tea for people who were doing these semi-documentaries after the war. And I discovered things. I thought this is a fantastic thing - it wasn't known to me then, it was a very secret affair. Now everything is known; they do documentaries about how things are done, all these special effects and things. Then it was a tremendously exciting mystery, just to be around it. I didn't know anything about who was the boss on the set, or what was happening, but it was extraordinary.



    JW: Did you feel like you'd entered a magical world?



    NR: It was just that. Gradually, I got a job in a cutting room. There wasn't a union then - I think I was No 18 in the ACT. There was an editor, Gladys Brimpts; her husband started the union. Terrific, I suddenly thought this is more than writing. I just couldn't understand why people didn't think this was one of the most wonderful things in the world. In the lunch hours, in Wardour street, we'd run films backwards and forwards, make a man sit on his head, fall down, get up ... It was fantastic, the ability to do that. It was a place with linguists, De Lane Lea, where they dubbed French films into English, and I saw masses of films. It fascinates me now that film has become a university subject; I can't believe it.



    It rather shattered me today when I went to see Eric Fellner's talk - it was fascinating, and he's probably one of the most successful producers right now in England. He talked about how his films are ordered and structured and market researched. In my day - and I was lucky that way - it was still a showman's place, a walk-right-up kind of thing. There was something vagabond-like about it, at the same time it was growing secretly. And the idea of photography as an art was ridiculous. But that was my life, in a factory setting.



    After De Lane Lea, through Gladys, I got a job at MGM, who had a studio here at Borehamwood. I went to see the chief loader and was introduced to Freddy Young, who was the chief cameraman; brilliant Freddy, who got two or three Oscars. Going with the chief loader onto the floor, I just thought everything was fantastic. Everything was being revealed; there were no books, no information - certainly not in England; but there was a bit more information in France, Germany and America, which had a tremendous history of film as art. Here in England, with the war, it was all documentaries and propaganda films, but film hadn't emerged as a whole other discipline of the arts. Children's finger-painting came under the arts, but movies didn't.



    JW: Was it through working with Freddy Young that you decided that cinematography was going to be your next discipline, which you went on to have a long and distinguished career in?



    NR: I had no idea about photography. I didn't think, "Ooh, I must be a photographer". I thought it was about loading magazines of film, standing around on set, then going back to the loading room. I stayed at MGM for about two years, and in that time I became part of the camera crew and worked my way up to be a focus puller.



    I worked with a man called Joe Ruttenberg, a great American cinematographer, who gave me the best tip in the world - it was amazing, just a simple thing. This was the man who had photographed The Philadelphia Story and Gigi. I told him that I was thinking of taking a photographic course, and he said, "Just stay on the set and watch and be a part of it; anything you want to know, I'll tell you". He was talking one day to Dick Thorpe, the director, and he said, "Cinematography is completely different from photography. You're never going to win the Royal Photographic Society award, and don't try to do that. It's the scene that must be served".



    You make the movie through the cinematography - it sounds quite a simple idea, but it was like a huge revelation to me. Curiously, it sank for a while when video and commercials came in. Because they had very little story to tell and they just had one thing to sell, they could have magnificent photography but not great cinematography. So quite a lot of people who've come into cinema from the commercials world have had to learn the very fact of what cinematography is over again.



    I was shooting Doctor Zhivago, and someone from MGM said to me, you only need one more shot to get the Oscar for this. Oscars are won with two or three shots only, because if it's really beautifully photographed, you don't really notice it until the astounding moment emphasises it. So I gradually learnt that, and became an operator and a cinematographer. It wasn't through a love of photography, but rather through my love of film, and the telling of stories through film. And later I thought, I can't think how anyone can become a director without learning the craft of cinematography. I was very glad later when I was directing that I wasn't in the hands of a cinematographer and hoping that he would do it well. I would know what he was doing, and we could discuss how that scene would look. It was just lucky in a way that I didn't go to film school and just learnt all this on the floor.



    JW: Did you work with directors who were influential upon you? I know that you hold Truffaut and his Fahrenheit 451 in very high regard, and also Roger Corman's The Mask of the Red Death, which we see very clearly in Don't Look Now. Were there people you think you learnt from, that you still would cite as an influence?



    NR: Of course. In life, we all learn from everyone. But if you like and admire someone tremendously, perhaps because they think the way you do, or like the way you think, then inevitably you do. With Francois, I liked his attitude in life. The rules of film-making can be taught in five minutes; that was what Orson Welles was told. The rules are learnt in order to be broken, but if you don't know them, then something is missing.



    Francois had his thoughts and his attitude in life was very special. One thing I did learn from him: he told me, "I always like going into the projection box on the first night - mostly because I don't like to sit in the audience to see what they're feeling. But also because I like to watch the back of their heads - I can tell more about how they like it from there than if I sit among them". And I've done that many times - and from there I sometimes think, "What's wrong with you there in the third row?"



    JW: I believe that you acted as cinematographer in your first two films, but one of the defining characteristics of your work, apart from them looking fantastic, is that they've also been edited very well. Your approach of using these mosaic-like montages and these elliptical details which become very important later on has become very influential. I just wondered if you could talk a bit about that because I was at the NFT interview with Steven Soderbergh, and he basically admitted that he'd taken the love scene in Don't Look Now and replicated it for Out of Sight. I've often heard film-makers talk about your influence on their editing approach - are you aware of this influence?



    NR: The construction of the story is gigantic. I shoot a lot of film, a lot of scenes. In fact, one of my editors is here tonight - Tony Lawson, who's just fantastic; applaud him please because he's just brilliant. Some people are very lucky, and have the story in their heads. I've never storyboarded anything. I like the idea of chance. What makes God laugh is people who make plans.



    If we're supposed to head for the beach to shoot a scene where a pair of lovers are taking leave of each other, and she gets up and walks off into the sunset, and they pass some other happier people on the beach; but if when we arrive there and it's raining, the assistant director would say, "I know, get the camera out". Because that chance is telling you something. They'd planned to say goodbye on the beach, it's raining, and there's nobody on the beach. There's a fourth hand, telling you something better.



    Years ago I had a house in Sussex, it was like Arcadia, with an old Victorian bridge, a pond and the Downs. There was a village watercolour society and they'd come and paint in my field. I watched them from the window, the way they would struggle this way and that to find the perfect moment. God has made every angle on that beautiful, and I felt that tremendously.



    I was listening to Philip Pullman, talking about how he constructs the storyline - with me, I can't get out of the fact that it's chance. That's why I shoot a lot. Afterwards in the editing process, with the loads of material, you live the film again. You shoot the bookcase to see what the characters have been reading. Maybe the scene calls for the person to lose attention for a moment and glance away at something, because our attention is never singularly focussed; we drift.



    JW: It's good that you mentioned that because I wanted to ask you about your approach to scripts - you've worked with some very good scriptwriters and from some very good texts, for instance Du Maurier for Don't Look Now and Conrad on Hearts of Darkness. You've also worked with writers like Paul Mayersberg and Dennis Potter. But one of my favourite stories about you is about when you went to scout for Walkabout with your son Luc Roeg. And when you returned, your scriptwriter said: "I've finished the script - I think you'll be rather pleased." And he handed you 14 pages of handwritten notes. I think your words then were: "That's perfect."



    NR: Mind you, the writer was Edward Bond. It was pretty good.



    JW: It seems to me that the script, for you, is just a catalyst, something on which to hang your imagination. Is that accurate?



    NR: Yes. Movies are not scripts - movies are films; they're not books, they're not the theatre. It's a completely different discipline, it exists on its own. I would say that the beauty of it is it's not the theatre, it's not done over again. It's done in bits and pieces. Things are happening which you can't get again. I forbid anyone to say "Cut", the soundman, the operator, or whatever.



    They think something's gone wrong, but in Don't Look Now, for instance, one scene was made by a mistake. It's the scene where Donald Sutherland goes to look for the policeman who's investigating the two women. We had an Italian actor there who couldn't speak any English at all, not even "Hello". Through the interpreter, I told him to say "Hello" when he heard Donald knock on the door. And I saw him walking around the set practising. So when it was time for Donald to knock on the door, the sound operator told the Italian actor, not realising that he didn't speak any English, to stay where he was. So Donald walked down the corridor, knocked on the door and opened the door into an empty room with a big lampshade. Donald hunted around, and the sound operator said "Hello?", and from behind the lampshade came a reply, "Hello!". It was fantastic. Because it was such a tense film, it set the tone - the detective instantly became strange. That has often been remarked on.



    On The Man Who Fell To Earth, we had a scene where David Bowie first arrives on Earth and walks into town; it's completely empty, things blowing. I couldn't believe this, but there was a children's fairground, with a big bouncy clown thing bouncing around. We had David cross the road and we followed him from behind, and this bouncing clown lost its cables and started bouncing towards him. I looked sideways, and there was a man who'd been lying in one of these torpedoes in a fairground ride. He staggered out of the torpedo towards David and kind of belched in front of him. And that was Mr Newton's first contact with human beings. Fantastic. He was completely baffled. I used that belch at the end too. You can't write that stuff in. So I shoot a lot of stuff. I think that's probably come from not having gone to film school. Things work themselves out. You've lost the showmanship thing, the fairground barker, come-see-what's-inside aspect of film-making when you try to plan everything for the audience.



    I had a furious row with a studio executive once: he said, "They won't get it, Nic" and I said, "No, they'll get it; it's you who's not getting it, because you're trying to force something that's different into being the same". People usually arrive to see something with an open mind. I want to make them feel something emotionally, but not by planning how to get them there. That would almost be like the communist days when newspapers told people what to think - when there was no competition with Pravda.



    JW: Your work is like a visual and aural assault and has always polarised people. But you've always said that your job as a director is to put ideas out there and for people to respond to them. Is that something that you abide by today? Do you just want people to have a reaction to your films, even if they don't necessarily like them?



    NR: Well, I hope that they like them. I made a film called Bad Timing that I thought everybody would respond to. It was about obsessive love and physical obsession. I thought this must touch everyone, from university dons down. But it had a curious effect on people - I sort of understood afterwards why it wasn't good for the company. Funnily enough, while it was being made, someone said to me: "You know, they're not going to eat this Nic, because you're scratching surfaces that people probably don't want to have exposed." It was only towards the end, when we were cutting it and we showed it to the musician, who looks at the rough cut. And he said: "Three years ago, I wouldn't have been able to work on this movie because I kept seeing myself on screen there, I was in that trap, in that hole."



    JW: We're going to show our first clip here, from The Man Who Fell To Earth.



    JW: Obviously, the film deals with the subject of alienation. This, to me, seems to be a subject that recurs in a lot of your films. You like to take characters and put them in strange situations and see how they deal with it. Is that an accurate statement?



    NR: Yes, that's a raw thought, but in detail, I like the idea of human terms of alienation. But it's also about human secrecy. The lover's oldest question is: "What are you thinking, darling?", then "What are you really thinking?" In that scene, Mary Lou and Mr Newton had been together for a while, and though she thought that he was a bit strange and odd, she had no idea where he came from. Sure he was an alien, but he wasn't a monster. She didn't know that on his planet, it had been planned that he would come to Earth and be among humans, but that they didn't get things quite right with his body. And so when she says that he can tell her anything, which in the human context means "You can tell me anything and I'll still love you," and he shows her his method of making love - by exchanging bodily fluids on a grand scale - of course she recoils.



    Then afterwards, when she approaches him on the bed and he starts oozing again and she recoils again, then he goes back to being human and keeps the secret. And it interested me tremendously, especially with David Bowie. People said, he's an extraordinary artist but, and producers were especially interested only in this one thing, can he act? He is Mr Newton. He's a tremendous performer, he's sung on stage in front of 20,000 people. But it suddenly struck me, when he told me that it was a very important step for him and asked what I wanted for the role, that the best thing I could tell him was that I didn't know who Mr Newton was either. So I told him, "You'll help me by not knowing either. Just do it, say the part". And it was strange - it was better than acting. He was it. He may have been slightly clumsy, and somebody else might have been more together but training would have stopped it. It wouldn't have had the authenticity of the alien, without anything except who he was. It especially worked with the CIA people and the politicians in the film - he didn't know what they were talking about. You can't learn everything by watching TV. So the alien does not appear to be alien, but is in fact more alien than if he'd had a big head. So the throwing away of the alien disguise was rather like exposing yourself emotionally.



    JW: Casting-wise, you've always done quite well with popstars. Performance featured Jagger's best performance, and we're going to see a clip later on with Art Garfunkel from Bad Timing. You've done really well with them.



    NR: Well, they're terrific performers. Another thing was happening: with a lot of the film stars, especially American ones ... Gene Hackman for instance, had been a reporter and in the Marines, and he took acting classes with Dustin Hoffman because he thought he could pick up chicks there. It wasn't to become a big film star. The great difference between screen acting and theatre acting is that screen acting is about reacting - 75% of the time, great screen actors are great reactors. When it comes to film, the director tells the audience what to look at. That doesn't happen on stage. When the dialogue stops, people don't know where to look.



    JW: A band called Big Audio Dynamite actually wrote a tribute song to you called E=mc2, and your son Luc directed the video. I think you're probably the first director to have a song written about him and his work. But you've always used music, and sound in general, in a very interesting way. I'm thinking in particular about the beginning of Track 29, where you've used John Lennon's Mother. In The Man Who Fell To Earth you used John Phillips; and then of course in Performance, the music is fantastic, and Tom Waits in Bad Timing. Is it something you're very aware of? Are you always looking to create an interesting synthesis between image and sound?



    NR: Actually, I generally don't like them to match, I like them clashing, doing a different job from just illustrating the picture. We're selective about sound, we tune out things, or maybe you overhear something - and that's an area that's as yet totally unexplored. They sent me a DVD to approve a scene, of Bad Timing, as it happens, and in it, there's a scene where a couple meet again and they're talking, but in between their dialogue, in their heads, the soundtrack has their thoughts, but they had cut that down.



    JW: We've talked about Bad Timing, so this would be a good point to show a clip from it.



    JW: I could go on asking questions all night - I've got six sheets of them - but I'm aware that I'm monopolising your time. So we'll throw it open to the audience now.



    Question 1: Everything you say about how and why you work makes a lot of sense to me, but what you did at the time was incredibly revolutionary. Didn't you encounter a great deal of resistance from people who just wanted a three-act, linear narrative? And how did you manage to keep saying, "I'm not going to do it that way"?



    NR: With a lot of luck, and force of energy too. You're dead right, in fact there's a joke with my films: they're like claret, you need to put them down for five years first. Sandy [Sanford] Lieberson, producer of Performance, said after he'd seen Bad Timing, "There's no reason why any of your films should have been made, Nic". But he was dead right. It was just extraordinary - I had some terrific producers: Jeremy Thomas was a terrific producer. That's why today has been very odd for me, seeing Eric Fellner and hearing Philip Pullman - who, although he's a writer, talked a lot about film and its influence on him. And what Eric was talking about was why I shouldn't be making movies; well, it felt like it was aimed at me, because I don't make blockbusters.



    When Last Year At Marienbad was first screened, producers and film executives came out laughing, saying: "They don't even know how to make a movie. You see Sacha Pitoëff go up to his room in a sports jacket, slamming the door shut and then opening it in a dinner jacket." Within three years, that kind of cutting would be de rigeur. Any change in form produces a fear of change, and that has accelerated. Marketing is the death of invention, because marketing deals with the familiar. I think it was Max Ernst who said, "I create utterly strange things from the utterly familiar".



    But in marketing, the familiar is everything, and that is controlled by the studio. That is reaching its apogee now. Eric is very clever about it, he's now shifting to doing smaller budget things but the rest must be researched, marketed, the script examined very carefully, every hole seemingly blocked up. Now, with people like Soderbergh, making movies has ceased to be a big, expensive deal - even telephones have cameras these days. When I first started, there were four people on sound, five if you count the guy with the cable; microphone wires were wound up by big machines; and outside, there would be another three people on the sound truck. In came tape and bang, five jobs were pointless. It happens before you know it and that is changing the state of film.



    Soon, just as people can now go to Rymans and buy paper to start writing a book, they'll be able to get stuff to start shooting a film. You're right, I was caught in a curious time-warp. I'd done a lot of work, so I was at the forefront of changing or realising the potential of film. I recently saw a film by two young men, and I talked to them two or three times in the past 18 months about their script. They did it on nothing, down in Bournemouth somewhere. It was very good. Marketing is a very good thing, but it shouldn't control everything. It should be the tool, not that which dictates. But it's also about timing - I sometimes wish I had been on time instead of before my time.



    Question 2: I want to ask a question about a specific film - there's a scene in The Man Who Fell To Earth, where a man gets thrown out of a very high window, but it's played in a very light-hearted way.



    NR: Well, I don't consider it light-hearted. Fear has many faces. And they had come for him - sometimes, some skinny guy hits out and kills some great thug on his doorstep. So the Buck Henry character, when these thugs in motorcycle helmets come to get him, just can't believe what's happening. Courage is a strange thing, sometimes it comes out of people that you'd never believe possessed it.



    Question 3: Two related questions: could you tell us briefly what you feel about David Lean, and apart from Truffaut, who are your favourite directors?



    NR: David Lean and I had a terrific beginning, a rather curious and poor middle and a very good end. I shot a lot of stuff on Lawrence - he gave me a unit on my own, and it was a massive unit. We didn't get to know each other well, but he kind of liked one of the last scenes that I shot for him. He wanted me to do Dr Zhivago - he was fraught with it because he'd chosen to shoot it in Spain and we just didn't get any snow. Even the mountain area was hopeless. We had marble dust and stuff all faked up. But a curious thing happened, which I understood that I couldn't stop happening. He was a perfectionist, but I was not. Neither can really like each other - it's like a marriage sometimes. David was a perfectionist, and we had a scene where our relationship collapsed - we were running out of time and we came to the scene where Julie Christie and Rod Steiger are in the sleigh going along. He said, "I don't know how we're going to do this" - because in those days we had to set up these huge arc lights. So I suggested leaving the background and just setting up little pup lights to turn around on the sleigh. He said it would never work, but I said that the alternative would be that we would spend hours setting up the arc lights and would probably lose a day and we didn't have the time. We shot the scene over and over again, and it worked.



    The next day, the guy from MGM arrived, and after the rushes, this man said, "That's a great shot, the one in the sleigh". So David and I were sitting on the crane later that day to shoot a street scene, and he turned to me and said, "You think I'm old-fashioned, don't you?" and I clapped my hand over his mouth and it was the end. It had been only three days but we fell out; and one of us had to go - it was his movie so I went. It was better anyway because Freddy came back. Then later, David and I were on some panel or something for Bafta, and we had a terrific evening and went for dinner afterwards.



    JW: We have to wrap up now but the gentleman also asked about your favourite films.



    NR: I'd rather leave that one open.



    JW: A massive round of applause for Mr Nicolas Roeg.

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    Good item, very interesting. It must be lovely to go to work because you want to AND get paid for it! Good luck to the man.



    Now for the techno bit - what is a 'focus puller', surely the cameraman looking through the eye-piece would be the one to focus?

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    Best thing he did for me was write "A PRIZE OF ARMS" 1962.

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    Administrator Country: Wales Steve Crook's Avatar
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    Now for the techno bit - what is a 'focus puller', surely the cameraman looking through the eye-piece would be the one to focus?
    Not with a big camera - like the old monsters that were used to make Technicolor films. They were so big (especially when fitted with the noice reducing "Blimp") that the camera operator looking through the eyepiece couldn't reach the focus controls on the lens turret.





    [Jack Cardiff checks out an old camera]



    The focus puller is (was) a sort of junior camera operator. They had to measure from the camera to each "mark" that the actors stopped on and would adjust the focus to a known setting so that the actors were in sharp focus when they stopped.



    That's the job Mark Lewis had in Peeping Tom (when he wasn't working on his own "project")



    Steve

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    Always struck me what a beggar of a job the focus puller's was...



    Not so bad if you are fairly static with the camera, but imagine when you are sitting with the operator on the dolly, in the middle of a complex camera move, trying to maintain your own balance, thinking of the focus distances AND adjusting the lens continually whilst the camera is still moving !



    For my money, although DPs did an excellent job, operators and pullers were real heroes ; particularly in the days of the big old cameras.



    I enjoyed immensely Jack Cardiff's anecdotes of working with the old Technicolour prism cameras (and Natalie Kalmus) in his book, Magic Hour. I also had every sympathy for the late, great, operator Len Harris at Hammer, who sometimes ended up swathed in blankets trying to muffle the noise from his old Vinten.....



    SMUDGE

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    You don't know me'



    Saturday July 12, 2008

    The Guardian



    Interviewing Nicolas Roeg is a bit like watching one of his films, it turns out: unpredictable, fascinating, cryptic and liable to leave you wondering what the hell just happened. He has the demeanour of a kindly professor who might also be the high priest of a secret magical cabal, and just as his films seemed to shatter reality into a thousand pieces, so his self-confessed "grasshopper mind" hops dizzyingly from subject to subject, leading you into a conceptual maze where you could be ambushed by a chilling pronouncement ("There's horror in your life, believe me, whether it's coming or you've just been lucky to miss it today"), an ominous quotation ("Wasn't it Oscar Wilde who said criticism is the closest thing to autobiography?"), or a disarmingly direct question ("Did you have a happy childhood?"). At times it feels like I'm the one being interviewed.



    Article continues

    You'd be disappointed if Roeg wasn't a little bit of a challenge. He is one of those living legends most people assume is dead. He was cameraman for now-deceased legends such as David Lean, John Schlesinger and Francois Truffaut, and as a director he took cinema to strange new places, perfecting a jigsaw-puzzle narrative technique in which you're shown all the pieces, but only find out how they fit together at the very end. He's also the only person to have made a good film starring either Mick Jagger (Performance) or David Bowie (The Man Who Fell To Earth). Or, for that matter, Art Garfunkel, whose role as a creepy psychiatrist in Bad Timing ensured nobody was going to ask him to sing Bright Eyes at children's parties again.



    Performance alone seals Roeg's cult status. What was supposed to be a bankable star vehicle for Jagger at the height of his fame came out as a brain-melting head trip, in which a reclusive rock star named Turner (Jagger) takes a fugitive thug (James Fox) into his Notting Hill mansion, weirds him out with drugs, aided by his two female companions, and somehow steals his identity. Horrified by the sex, drugs, violence and all-round psychedelic incomprehensibility, the studio didn't dare release it for two years. Myths about Performance abound: how Roeg's dangerously out-there co-director Donald Cammell seduced all four principal cast members; how James Fox never recovered from the experience and all but retired from acting; how Keith Richards stalked the set, keeping a jealous eye on what his lover, Anita Pallenberg, was getting up to with Mick, her onscreen partner (whose character was based on Pallenberg's ex, Brian Jones, for added resonance).



    Rather worryingly, Roeg himself lives in a Notting Hill mansion, just round the corner from where Jagger lived in Performance - which makes me feel like James Fox as I ring the doorbell. He leads me up to a large, book-lined study cluttered with paperwork, trophies, paintings and antique furniture.



    My hopes that Roeg would be happy to reminisce about Mick, Dave, or even Art, prove to be over-optimistic. He's far happier discussing abstract matters like "truth" or "time" or the progress of technology than he is sharing anecdotes. "I don't know, I think I'd rather stay off that," he says politely when I probe him for juicy details. "I never speak about the artists. They belong to themselves. Obviously I think he [Jagger] was tremendous. And Bowie is just the same. But I don't know Mick Jagger; I know Turner. You don't know me. I don't know you. I know you as a journalist and you know me as someone that's answering some questions. But you don't know me."



    I get the impression Roeg would rather not be doing an interview at all. He certainly doesn't do many of them, and never does them over the phone. "People are never quite what they are - that's why I like to see the person I'm talking to," he says. Either way, he's only admitted me into his private realm because he's got a new film out. Puffball is his first UK release in over a decade. Up to about 1990 he had a movie out every couple of years, usually starring his ex-wife Theresa Russell, but recently he's been sporadically doing TV movies such as Samson And Delilah, starring Elizabeth Hurley, or mildly raunchy fare like Full Body Massage, and Hotel Paradise (aka Erotic Tales II). Eroticism is a recurring theme in Roeg's work. He is routinely credited with having filmed the best sex scene ever - between Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland in Don't Look Now. "I hate it when people say that sex scene," he says. "It's part of the film. When they showed it in America they took the scene out and it changed the whole nature of the film. They just seemed to be rowing all the time."



    Sutherland turns up again briefly in Puffball (and keeps his clothes on, thankfully), but the earthy sex is still there, along with Roeg's other preoccupations: the supernatural, grief, horror, alienation, and things generally not being what they seem. Based on a Fay Weldon novel, it's like a cross between Rosemary's Baby and Hammer House Of Horror, following three generations of witchy women, including Rita Tushingham and Miranda Richardson, who attempt to "steal" the baby of the pregnant Irish architect (Kelly Reilly) doing up the country cottage next door. There are love potions, bizarre internal shots of sperm entering vaginas and babies growing in the womb. Those hoping for another Don't Look Now will be disappointed, the jigsaw pieces don't quite come together like they used to, but it's certainly, er, different.



    "I've been told my movies are difficult to market," says Roeg. "It isn't a horror film, it isn't a thriller. Yes, there's a love story in it but it could hardly be called a romance. People love things in boxes, classified a genre. But it's just life . Life and birth and sex and love - they don't necessarily all go together." He digresses again into discussions of the supernatural, secrecy, acting and surveillance society, before returning to the topic of the interview itself: "We're sitting intimately here and perhaps we'll meet again, perhaps we won't, but this is part of our lives. And you'll take that memory and I will remember you and this meeting and this discussion and wonder about it - and I'll be interested to see what you write."



    So will I, I think to myself. We've been talking for over an hour but I'm struggling to recall if we've actually talked about anything. Roeg never plans or storyboards his films, he says. He likes to just go with the flow on set, and leave things a little to chance. The trademark fractured narratives come later, in the editing room. I'm thinking I'll have to do the same. If I wrote up the interview chronologically, it would barely make sense. Perhaps being Nicolas Roeg is like being in one of his movies ...



    Performance ends with Mick Jagger driving away from his Notting Hill pad having assumed the identity of James Fox, or is it the other way round? Or have they merged? While shooting the movie, Roeg and Cammell reportedly became one in a similar way. They were "perfectly matched" he says. Cammell later committed suicide, shooting himself in the head, in a similar fashion to Fox/Jagger's death at the end of Performance. If this moment was in a Roeg film, it probably would end with him leaving in a taxi back to the Guardian, and me as an 80-year-old man in a study full of books looking back on my life and wondering who that idiot journalist was. I don't think that's what happened but I can't be sure.





    Roeg elements





    Performance (1970)



    The Stones' swinging London and the Krays' East End collide in a kaleidoscopic psychodrama, as Mick Jagger's rock recluse destabilises James Fox's gangster.

    Key scenes Jagger's Memo From Turner, credited as the birth of the music video. Fox's meetings with his cockney boss Johnny Shannon - Guy Ritchie was obviously taking notes.



    Walkabout (1971)



    Two English schoolchildren get lost in the hostile Australian outback. A solitary Aboriginal teen keeps them alive, but then gets the hots for Jenny Agutter. Surreal desert imagery and an aboriginal sense of time add to the dislocation.

    Key scene Agutter's skinny dip - nostalgically remembered by many males of a certain vintage; David Gulpilil's body-painted "mating dance".



    Don't Look Now (1973)



    Tragedy looms as Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie recover from the death of their daughter in gloomy Venice. Sutherland runs away from his emerging psychic abilities - but towards what?

    Key scenes The opening minutes, which foretell the entire film in a dizzying montage. That sex scene. The old blind woman - "He has the gift."



    The Man Who Fell To Earth (1976)



    Frail, pale, Low-era Bowie as a visiting alien (no effects needed), who plans to get water for his dying planet, but falls prey to earthly capitalism, women and alcohol.

    Key scenes Bowie collapsing in the elevator and being carried like a baby by Candy Clark. Yet another memorable sex scene, this one involving a gun.



    Insignificance (1985)



    Four 1950s icons - based on Marilyn Monroe, Joe DiMaggio, Joseph McCarthy and Albert Einstein - have a strange encounter in a hotel room.

    Key scene Monroe (Theresa Russell) explaining the theory of relativity to Einstein (Michael Emil).

  7. #7
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    Thanks for posting this. I'm a big fan of Roeg's. His early films, up through "Bad Timing," are incredible.

  8. #8
    Senior Member Country: UK DB7's Avatar
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    Olly Blackburn meets Nic Roeg



    Nic Roeg is the director of �Performance�, �Don�t Look Now� and, most recently, �Puffball�. Olly Blackburn is the man behind �Donkey Punch�, a thriller about a holiday gone wrong. We sent Olly to meet his legendary colleague



    Nic Roeg inspires me. He�s one of the greatest British film directors. His work is bold, challenging, cinematic and full of mesmerising ideas. He�s made films in almost every genre � horror (�Don�t Look Now�), sci-fi (�The Man Who Fell to Earth�), gangster (�Performance�), kids (�The Witches�), wilderness epic (�Walkabout�) � and always managed to be unique, burst conventions and challenge us to think. Roeg is also a sinew of British cinema past, present and future.



    Born in London in 1928, he apprenticed for many years after the war before becoming a cinematographer in the early 1960s. In this centenary year of David Lean let�s remember that Roeg shot one of the famous sequences in �Lawrence of Arabia�. He continued to work with the most pivotal directors of the time � Truffaut, Schlesinger, Dick Lester � and went on to direct an impressive body of work all the way up to his latest film, �Puffball�, an adaptation of a Fay Weldon novel released next week.



    Just before I embarked last year on the crazed 24-day shoot for my own first film, �Donkey Punch�, my assistant director � who was the AD on Roeg�s �The Witches� � gave me two words of advice he�d learned straight from Nic: �There is what is right for the money and there is what is right for the film. Remember, the film lives forever.�



    And, when disaster strikes: �Consider it a blessing.� So when tough times hit � and there were many on �Donkey Punch� including unexpected tidal surges, clinically hypothermic actors, and sundry other madnesses � my AD would growl, in his thick Bronx accent, �It�s a blessing, boss.�



    �Yes,� smiles Nic when I tell him.



    �I believe that�s so. God laughs at people who make plans. If one does too much planning� You�re not seeing the gold beneath your feet.�

    We�re talking in his study in Notting Hill, which overflows with books, memorabilia and pictures. Almost 80 now but sharp as a blade, Nic has a twinkle in his eye that can suddenly focus in and hold you when he wants to deliver a point.



    We talk about �Puffball�. Based on a novel about witchcraft and fertility, it�s spearheaded by an ensemble of female characters played by superb actresses like Kelly Reilly, Miranda Richardson and Rita Tushingham, backed with a strong debut from newcomer Leona Igoe.



    �Puffball� links to Roeg�s work through many of its themes � of identity, memory, time and a uniquely complex, intelligent approach to sexuality.

    Why is sex so important to his work? �It�s life,� he responds, simply. �Sex and love don�t always go together. A lot is desire, enjoyment of the state of life� I mean, what is life? I don�t know. I know that it begins with something quite extraordinary, doesn�t it? And by accident as well.�



    This is the man who shot probably the bravest sex scene in cinema � between Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland in �Don�t Look Now�.

    But what�s just as bold is the way Roeg cross-cut the scene with what happens next: the two of them getting dressed for dinner afterwards. Time and intimacy. Between the moments, we feel like spectators into the interior life of these people. And it�s quite beautiful.



    �When the BBC first broadcast �Don�t Look Now� they cut the sex scene out. And so many people wrote in because it wasn�t the same. You see, I didn�t want it to be gratuitous.



    I wanted it to be like reality � I always felt there was something more that was happening. And when it was cut out, Sutherland and Christie seemed to be arguing all the time, you know, �Don�t move in there!� and �Oh no, you�ve thrown up!� and �Oh, shut up!� �



    We move on to other work � �The Man Who Fell to Earth�, �Bad Timing� and �Eureka� � all of which are challenging, dark, experimental and,

    I suggest, break all the rules. He answers, quick as a spit: �It�s all about understanding that there are no rules.�



    But these films were made for handsome budgets, with marquee stars and inside an ultra-conservative studio system. How did he pull it off?

    �I honestly don�t know. I think it was because I fell in with a bunch of executives from another time that were still plunging into daring things and looked at the product differently. There�s that wonderful line in Elia Kazan�s �The Last Tycoon� when they sit at a studio board meeting saying, �People don�t want this�, and De Niro says: �The studio needs this movie. If we make this movie, actors will want to work with us. This is important.� �



    That was the attitude to him in the 1970s and �80s? He shrugs, imagining the thoughts of executives about him: ��We�ve got a nutcase� and �I dunno whether these films are any good or not�.� He laughs. �I don�t want to be arrogant, but did I think I was different? No. I thought I was right

    on the ball.�



    His films are so exacting physically and emotionally. Are they overly demanding on actors?



    �That�s so interesting that you should say that. I always try to take the work ethic out of the acting. That they somehow are able to find their own truth. I often use the expression, �There�s too much acting going on.� �



    He remembers how his ex-wife Theresa Russell, an actress in five of his films, wanted to leave two days into the filming of �Bad Timing� in 1979. �Then suddenly things tumbled for her and she said, �I�ve changed my mind. Can�t we rehearse it?� But I hate rehearsals and would rather keep it close to the moment. We don�t rehearse how we�re going to behave � I can smell artificiality all the time.�



    This is a continuing theme in the conversation: artificiality, mistrust of the familiar. �People find safety in the familiar and of course that�s when you�re trapped. You think it�s safe in the familiar? You�re gonna get a big surprise, son. You be careful of that �familiar� � it�s gonna kick your ass!



    �Life begins in a way that we don�t know anything about except physically. I�ve always been aware of time. It baffled me for years. When

    I was about 12 my father said, �You know, Nic, the day you are born is the only time you have today and tomorrow. After tomorrow you have today and yesterday.� � I have to pause to get my head around that.



    �Will we see the sun come up tomorrow? You know you saw it come up yesterday. That sense of time and immediacy� People are baffled by the time inside a movie. I can�t imagine what it would be like to be so bound to the rigours of the conventions of time as people are.�



    Sitting in his packed study, it feels like Roeg�s still hungry for knowledge. He�s a polymath. Suddenly he bounces up and grabs a collection of Cocteau essays, reading one aloud: � �The work of art must make contact, be it even through misunderstanding but at the same time it must hide its riches to reveal them little by little over a long period of time.� �



    That�s exactly how it is rewatching Roeg�s films � they�re so dense and full of ideas, you make new connections each time. I tell him it�s like drinking a fine wine � the first glass is nice, but after it�s been left to breathe it reveals structure and complexity and gets even better to drink. He seems to like that.



    Right now I�d like nothing more than to crack open a bottle of wine and hear more stories, but time is getting on and I�ve hung around long enough.



    It�s been a great conversation: Nic encapsulates all the reasons I made �Donkey Punch� � to try to push the genre. Be bold � because you might never get another chance! And � this is a word we use several times � community is everything. Nic is part of a shared film culture and, through him and my assistant director, all of us on �Donkey Punch� are too.



    Just before I go he shows me a recent photograph of him in a baseball cap in Powis Square, W11, standing next to a piece of kinetic, Gorillaz-style graffiti which reads: �Push � Memo to Turner�. It�s a reference to �Performance�, a film part of which he shot in that same square in Notting Hill, with Mick Jagger and James Fox, in the late 1960s.



    And, right there, 1968 meets now. Past, present and future.



    Author: Olly Blackburn

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    Jeez, Bad Timing is as bleak and vivid assessment of a relationship as it gets. Check out Eureka if you can. First half with Hackman is amongst his best. Granted, it kind of falls away at a certain point when Hackman's massive presence exits but everything up till is dizzingly good.

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    Off to see Roeg's latest, 'Puffball' tomorrow - alas Roeg himself is not in attendence but we have Rita Tushingham so it should be interesting ...



    The reviews I've read are almost all poor and the film hasn't been picked up by any distributor even though it was made last year.



    What are your opinions on Roeg's films post 'Eureka'? Personally I'm not sure whether his decline as a director was a result of his loosing his way or lack of finance - perhaps a bit of both.



    From 'Performance' to 'Bad Timing' - an inspired run of successive masterpieces - I'd say his work can stand comparason with Kubrick's anyday myself, but alas, with films since such as 'Samson and Dililah' - and much, much, worse! - his work has gone steadily downhill and it's almost as if he's even forgotten what it was that made his work unique.



    A sad decline.

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    Yeah, that later work def isn't as good, but jesus what an output from "Performance" through "Bad Timing." One classic after another.



    I think he got older. Think maybe he lost his way a bit. Maybe he got tired of fighting with the studios, etc....Still, most directors don't have one classic film in them, let alone five.

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    Just got back from the 'Puffball' screening, with a Q and A by Rita Tushingham afterwards.



    Oh dear ...



    I must say I thought that while the premise showed some promise, the whole thing seemed forced and uninspired. Apart from Tushingham, I thought the cast were pretty lame, and Donald Sutherland only had a few lines and looked distinctly uncomfortable - the producers must have drafted him in to get funding from Canada by the looks of things.



    Roeg's mise-en-scene had all the staid, visual appeal of a TV movie, sharing none of the characteristics that once made his films unique. Instead, stylistically the film was moribund and ham-fisted, the repeated shots of wriggling sperm making several members of the audience laugh out loud. The script also suffered from some serious construction flaws, and seemed as a consequence, a lot longer than it should have been.



    Rita Tushingham thankfully looked a lot better in real life than she did in the film, and took us briskly through the major films of her career.



    It's Roeg's birthday today and I shall celebrate by watching 'Don't Look Now' this evening - an appropiate title if ever there was one, for the complacent nonesense I saw this evening.



    Happy birthday Nick!

  13. #13
    Administrator Country: Wales Steve Crook's Avatar
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    Nic Roeg will be at the Phoenix, Finchley on Sunday 17th August to introduce a screening of his new film "Puffball"



    Steve

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    Nicolas Roeg � the man who failed to open up

    The veteran, ground-breaking director is charming, affable and unwilling to bare his soul � or his past

    Ed Potton



    It�s often said that Nicolas Roeg is like his films: stimulating, unpredictable, baffling. When I meet him in a restaurant around the corner from his home in Notting Hill, West London, I�m expecting a swirling composite of Socrates, Dal� and Gandalf. Instead I get a calm, courteous man with a rambling tone that reminds me of Roly Birkin, the elderly QC in The Fast Show whose anecdotes all end with the admission that he �was very, very drunk�.



    Roeg, nursing an uncontroversial half of lager, is not drunk. But he is 80 now, still tricky of mind but slower of body, and the Roly Birkin voice often gets lost in the clatter from the restaurant kitchen. During six decades in the industry, he has produced a body of work more intriguing than any other living British director. There�s Performance (1970), that bewildering marriage of gangster flick and psychedelic puzzle; Don�t Look Now (1973), a creepy arthouse horror set in a fogbound Venice; The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976), with David Bowie typecast as an androgynous alien. It�s a provocative CV, so it�s frustrating that Roeg hates discussing it. He is a curious compound of affability and elusiveness; happy to talk but resistant to questioning. �I�m not a great nostalga-ist,� he admits. �The history of people�s careers, that�s not facts.� But surely memory has a purpose? �Yes, but it�s not to be examined. It�s going all the time anyway, you can�t stop it.�



    What he will talk about is the new DVD reissue of Aria, the 1987 film with segments from ten directors including Jean-Luc Godard, Bruce Beresford and Roeg, each based on an operatic aria of their choosing. It�s an inevitably uneven enterprise: in Godard�s section bodybuilders pump iron to Jean-Baptiste Lully; in Beresford�s, a young Elizabeth Hurley strips off and lip-synchs to Korngold. Roeg�s segment, to music from Verdi�s Un ballo in maschera, tells the story of King Zog of Albania, who shot back at his would-be assassins in Vienna. He enjoyed crafting �the whole story of a moment�, although �it�s not factual, biographical�. That�s not his style. �No,� he smiles.



    His style is rapturously visual, with fractured editing evoking the capricious power of human memory. It�s also pretty kinky, from the convincing threesomes of Performance and the elliptical sex scene between Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland in Don�t Look Now, to Aria, which stars a moustachioed Theresa Russell, his wife at the time, as Zog. Did he enjoy directing her as a man? He smiles. �It didn�t go all the way! Having a woman play a man doesn�t distract, that�s the curious thing.� He�s right, bizarrely.



    He and Russell have since divorced and since 2004 he has been married to his third wife, Harriett Harper (�She gets annoyed when I introduce her as my present wife�.) Harper appeared in Far from the Madding Crowd, which Roeg photographed; his first wife, Susan Stephen, was also an actress. Marrying people he met at work was �inevitable�, he says. �I don�t have great circles of friends.�



    He has also worked with Luc, one of his six sons, who starred as a child in Roeg�s Walkabout (1971) and is now a film producer. But he won�t say any more about Luc or his other sons, Joscelin, Nicolas, Sholto, Statten and Maximilian. �They wouldn�t like it. They�re terrific guys. They wouldn�t talk of me.�



    He has said his own childhood was happy, �Although who knows? If I described it to you, you might say, �Call that a happy childhood?� So describe it, I say: what was he like as a child, apart from happy? �Small!� he smiles. Roeg was born in 1928 in London, but where exactly? �I don�t want to get into my life,� he says. �The only biographical detail I read of other people is the obituaries.� But he must understand why people are interested? �Everyone�s nosy. I�m nosy, I�m interested in other people, but people change all the time. We�re one giant conundrum.� Some more than others. How about education? �What, you mean being told which books to read? I don�t know, I think I�ve probably been a bit of a pain in the arse to people.�



    What we do know is that he got a job as a tea boy at Marylebone Studios in London in the 1940s and worked his way up, finally getting his hands on the big job with Performance. But he is horrified when I refer to his Seventies movies as �an amazing run�. �Those films began to live afterwards, but at the time it was damned hard!� With typical perversity, he kept the poster with Richard Schickel�s comment that Performance was �the most completely worthless film I have seen since I began reviewing�.



    Things have scarcely improved on the critical front. In the Nineties he diverged into questionable TV movies such as Full Body Massage, while last year�s return from the wilderness, Puffball, an adaptation of Fay Weldon�s novel, had a polarised reception.



    David Puttnam has said that the common trait he noticed with directors in their twilight years, men such as John Huston and Billy Wilder, was anger. After all his critical maulings, is Roeg angry? �No. I think that�s rather weird.� There is a quote of Huston�s that he prefers: �Making a film is rather a melancholy thing to do.� He paraphrases Huston on how a director becomes the centre of a temporary universe, then sees it disperse. Does he identify with that? �You�re identifying with it, aren�t you?�



    Melancholy or not, he is still fascinated by cinema: �The idea of the retension of the image never ceases to amaze me.� His pet project for the past five years has been an adaptation of Night Train, the post-modern detective thriller by Martin Amis, a �close acquaintance� and fellow Notting Hill resident. �I like his work very much and I got in touch with him,� he says. Night Train is �a very important film for me. What Martin did brilliantly was to write something that reads like an American book� .



    Rumours have Sigourney Weaver playing detective Mike Hoolihan (another sexually ambiguous leading lady), but Roeg won�t confirm them. Whatever happens, �it will live on. If I fall through it will still be done, because it�s too good� . The objective, as ever, is �to make a connection. That�s what we�re looking for in life isn�t it? I can�t be that alone, there must be someone. It would be nice to make a lot of people feel, �Yeah I thought that too� .� It�s a noble aim, certainly. But he doesn�t make it easy.



    Aria is released by Second Sight

  15. #15
    Senior Member Country: UK Moor Larkin's Avatar
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    I was too young to get in to to see 'Performance' but I love his next four films.



    And Theresa Russell is just.................... enviable..........




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    I think Walkabout was a great Roeg film, along with don't look now. Julie Christie was fantastic.

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    Good screen sex is hard to find ... unless you watch a Nicolas Roeg film

    The director of Don't Look Now knew how to use a sex scene to lift a film, not overwhelm it � a skill that few film-makers have

    For anyone with an interest in the outer limits of British cinema, the BFI is very much the place to be this month � because there the curious can find already under way a season devoted to the films of the maddening and entrancing Nicolas Roeg. As a retrospective it works perfectly, offering the chance to see, say, the sad sweep of Walkabout or the giddy head-trip of Performance as they were meant to be seen, giving space to the less-celebrated likes of the almost-lost Eureka and Oedipal psychodrama Track 29 � and offering a clear overview of its subject's career trajectory.

    In the case of Roeg, that's as intriguing as it is erratic; and a story in which among the few constants is a fascination with matters of the flesh. For Roeg will forever be associated with sex, at least in part because of his role in what's routinely hailed as cinema's greatest sex scene � the drainingly intimate bout of clawing and clinging shared by Donald Sutherland, Julie Christie and their director in Don't Look Now. As Peter Bradshaw wrote here recently, the whole film is stuffed with imagistic riches, but it's impossible to picture it wielding nearly as much power without that rarest of things � the sex scene that strikes a wordless nerve in everyone who sees it.

    But before the coupling of Sutherland and Christie there had, of course, already been the kink of Performance and the stark comings-of-age of Walkabout with its famous pull on the libidos of a generation of adolescent boys. After, every bit as indelible, came The Man Who Fell to Earth, a deeply melancholy film with a strange and genuinely beautiful sex scene between David Bowie's stranded alien Newton and Candy Clark's hotel maid Mary Lou that replaced the fierce heat of Don't Look Now with an existential ache and plenty of gunplay.

    And then there was Bad Timing, the apex of Roeg's experiments with fractured storytelling, and by some distance the least erotic of his sexual adventures. For me at least, the notorious rape of Theresa Russell (later to become Roeg's wife) was actually rivalled for discomfort by his intercutting of her in the throes of ecstasy with scenes of her bloody throat operation � a vastly unsettling spin on the way Sutherland and Christie's shag had been juxtaposed with their post-coital selves dressing for dinner that would have certainly encouraged backers Rank to run shrieking from the prospect of distributing the film.

    This was also the point in Roeg's career when the world would begin to stop watching. From here, his professional status would dwindle dramatically, his projects finally all but vanishing off the radar � although in a Roeg movie there would always be something interesting going on and it was often something procreative, whether the voodoo orgy of Eureka or the gynaecological detail of his last film, 2007's Puffball. But while I wouldn't dispute that Roeg's back catalogue is capable of leading you down some hugely frustrating back alleys, I do also wonder if the question mark that hangs over his reputation has been put there to just a degree by his fondness for explicit (and yes, often unshakeably weird) portraits of sex, and the confusion that still seems to surround the very place of sex in the movies.

    Because it sometimes feels as if any director showing too much interest in the old in-out risks being seen to bring with them a whiff of something musky that makes them a little smaller as a film-maker. You can blame that on the likes of Roman Polanski's farcical Bitter Moon, but it's not been helped by some of the other movies Roeg would inspire � the feverish curiosity around whether the sex in both Don't Look Now and Performance was real being answered in the modern age by the much-less-interesting-than-you'd-imagine v�rit� nookie of Intimacy and Nine Songs, or The Brown Bunny, in which Vincent Gallo exploded his directorial career while being attended to on camera by Chloe Sevigny. Attention-seeking one-trick ponies, that lot don't make for much of a legacy.

    But on the few times in recent years when a sex scene has elevated the film it's in rather than just overwhelming it, you can always discern the hand of Roeg � to be specific, the marriage he created in Don't Look Now of the physically graphic with an emotional realism to produce something authentic beyond just, as Pulp once put it, "Oh, that goes in there/Then that goes in there."

    For Roeg, a director who was always more at home with images than with dialogue, the sex scene offered him the chance to explore one of the rare human contexts where words really are beside the point � a grasp of storytelling with actors' bodies echoed since in the sex scenes of everyone from Lynch to von Trier to Cronenberg, and most recently the dazzling, harrowing Blue Valentine. If the secret of a good sex scene is to leave us feeling as trembly and exposed as the characters on screen, it's a trick Roeg performed first. And you do, so they say, always remember your first.

  18. #18
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    Sex and death: Nicolas Roeg at BFI Soutbank

    Ahead of a new Nicolas Roeg season, David Jenkins admires the brilliance of the director�s lesser known work
    Discussions of the work of visionary British director Nicolas Roeg rarely stray outside the key years of 1968 (when he co-directed the psychedelic identity-swap classic �Performance�, with Donald Cammell) and 1983 (when he made �Eureka�, his paranoiac ode to �Citizen Kane� with Gene Hackman). A retrospective at BFI Southbank which collects together most of his directorial oeuvre (what, no �Full Body Massage�?), including a number of notable works he was involved in as cinematographer, asks us � in true Roeg fashion � to step outside our comfort zone and consider his later, less well known works. By all means, go and catch his harrowing, supernatural deconstruction of grief, �Don�t Look Now� (1973), on the big screen (not least because it was voted the best British film of all time in a recent Time Out poll). But after that, why not go and see 1988�s �Track 29�, a film that doesn�t fully cohere, but which offers a fascinating insight into Roeg�s preoccupation with the almost sexual bond between parent and child?

    Roeg famously chivvied his way up the ranks of the film industry, working as focus puller on Lewis Gilbert�s evocatively titled British noir, �Cosh Boy� (1955), and earning his spurs as a cinematographer on 1960 Lionel Jeffries vehicle, �Jazz Boat�. The striking way he captures the colour red (used to such iconic effect in �Don�t Look Now�) can be traced back to his pre-directorial career: just look at the way he picks out the ravishing costumes in Roger Corman�s �The Masque of the Red Death� (1964), or the fire engine which hurtles between book burnings in Fran�ois Truffaut�s speculative sci-fi, �Fahrenheit 451� (1966).

    The dense and dreamy visual sense that Roeg developed during those early years became an integral part of his later films. His probing camerawork, made up of agressive zooms and oblique angles, is instantly recognisable, and is perhaps suggestive of Roeg�s need to get awkwardly close to sensitive detail. This is coupled (more so in his early works) with a rhythmic, fractured editing style which allows the parts of a story to gradually converge like pieces of some warped jigsaw puzzle. �Bad Timing� (1980) employs this technique to haunting effect, making bold back-and-forth narrative leaps to tell the story of the abusive relationship between Art Garfunkel�s Marlboro-chugging psychoanalyst and Theresa Russell�s prepetually denuded lush. Even the use of Keith Jarrett�s seminal improvised jazz disc �The K�ln Concert� on the soundtrack offers an aural key to Roeg�s experimental tendencies.

    �Castaway� (1986) frames the psychologically crippling power-struggles of marriage against a deceptively idyllic desert island backdrop. Though Roeg offers ample bare flesh � something those fans of �Walkabout�s� infamous skinny-dipping scene will be more than used to � the points he makes about the importance of sex in relationships are sharp, and almost make up for being forced to listen to Olly Reed (in unflattering Speedos) recite dirty limericks for much of the film.

    But Roeg�s interest in sex is perhaps as much a physical manifestation of his passion for examining bigger questions about life and the fragile nature of existence. One of the greatest scenes in his oeuvre (contained in one of his most underrated films) occurs in the opening half of 1985�s �Insignificance�, a cosmic meditation on our place within the universe which has versions of Marilyn Monroe, Senator Joe McCarthy, Joe DiMaggio and Albert Einstein meeting in a hotel room and discussing identity, procreation and astrophysics. The scene sees Marilyn (played by Roeg�s then-wife Theresa Russell) explaining the theory of relativity to Albert Einstein with the aid of some toy trains and a balloon. The way this audacious episode is choreographed is at once majestic, thought provoking and richly cinematic. It�s an example of the director celebrating the stylistic possibilities of cinema, and offering an eccentric and intimate view of two humans considering their place within the galaxy. And really, you can�t get more Roegian than that.

  19. #19
    Senior Member Country: Vatican Sgt Sunshine's Avatar
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    Great news....Well deserved

    BBC News - Director Nicholas Roeg awarded film critics' honour

    Cheers
    Sgt S

  20. #20
    Senior Member Country: UK agutterfan's Avatar
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    I saw this on BBC newstext yesterday and for a minute I thought he'd died ... wait, we're celebrating a British director while he's still alive!? Of course there's one film I absolutely adore, but I find all his films fascinating even if flawed, and it's good to see his work as a cinematographer is also being praised: along with the production design, his work on Masque of the Red Death raises it from the level of a typical Corman to something approaching art. I read an interview with him about the ending of Walkabout, he must be the only one alive to think it was a happy ending!

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