tue 27/02/2024

Arena: Nicolas Roeg – It's About Time, BBC Four | reviews, news & interviews

Arena: Nicolas Roeg – It's About Time, BBC Four

Arena: Nicolas Roeg – It's About Time, BBC Four

Absorbing portrait of one of British cinema's most influential directors

A true original: Nicolas Roeg

Rumour has it that there's a proposal floating around Hollywood to remake Nicolas Roeg's Don't Look Now, his enthralling 1973 masterpiece of love, grief and death foretold. Anyone foolish enough to contemplate such a move should be made to watch this skilful and absorbing film about Roeg's career and work.

It was a vivid illustration of how a singular artist pursuing a distinctive vision goes about his business, as opposed to being a mere component in a commercial clone-factory increasingly bereft of original ideas. On the other hand, what it didn't show us was Roeg's debilitating struggle against financial pressures and studio interference to get his films made.

Director David Thompson had partially mirrored Roeg's own film-making techniques by kicking off with a collage of clips and comments from, and about, some of his best-known films – Walkabout, Performance, The Man Who Fell to Earth – then developing these as themes as the film progressed. The subtitle "It's About Time", though rather a feeble pun, skewered the most arresting aspect of Roeg's work, his fascination with scrambling and reassembling the time-schemes of his films. Roeg's ex-wife and sometime leading lady Theresa Russell recalled how he had completely upended the way Bad Timing (1980) was written to accommodate this temporal dislocation –"people do not think linearly," she pointed out (pictured below, Theresa Russell with Art Garfunkel and Roeg making Bad Timing).

Director Ben Wheatley talked about Roeg's "compression of time" and the way he portrays different events in simultaneous time. Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland recalled their famous love-making scene in Don't Look Now, in which they were depicted having sex while simultaneously having had sex and getting dressed in a post-coital glow. "It wasn't necessarily sexy, what it did was remind you of making love," said Christie.

A lesser-known part of the Roeg story is his early career as a director of photography, eminent enough in itself since he worked on such classics as Far From the Madding Crowd, Lawrence of Arabia and Doctor Zhivago. It was director Bernard Rose who told how Roeg had been replaced by Freddie Young partway through Zhivago, and in a cruel twist of fate Young won an Oscar while Roeg went uncredited (the young Nic Roeg at work, pictured below).

While the analysis was mostly left to the director's admirers and collaborators (including Jenny Agutter and his son Luc, who starred together in Walkabout), Roeg himself seemed to cast a quizzical, slightly amused eye over the proceedings. Now 86, he sat in his softly-lit study surrounded by shelves of books, papers and memorabilia, and discoursed with a modest amiability that belied the boldness and ferocity of feeling in his films. The capacity to exert mastery over time was what first fascinated him about film-making, as he experimented with running reels backwards and forwards, and he read from WH Auden's poem "At Last the Secret Is Out": "There is always another story, there is more than meets the eye".

Roeg told some stories a couple of years ago in his book The World Is Ever Changing, but their randomness and inconsequential nature felt more like sweepings from his cutting room floor than a finished product. If you want to know the filmmaker, in this case at least, it would be best to stick to his films, as this profile wisely did. 

If you want to know the filmmaker it would be best to stick to his films, as this profile wisely did


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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