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Roeg, Nicolas

ROEG, Nicolas


Nationality: British. Born: Nicolas Jack Roeg in London, 15 August 1928. Education: Mercers School. Family: Married 1) Susan Rennie Stephens; 2) actress Theresa Russell. Career: Junior at Marylebone Studio, dubbing French films and making tea, from 1947; hired at MGM's Borehamwood Studios as part of camera crew on The Miniver Story, 1950; camera operator, from 1958; directed first feature (with Donald Cammell), Performance, 1970. Awards: Golden Palm, Cannes Film Festival, for Insignificance, 1985; Lifetime Achievement Award, British Independent Film Awards, 1999. Address: c/o Hatton and Baker, 18 Jermyn Street, London SW1Y 6HN, England.


Films as Director:

1970

Performance (co-d, + ph)

1971

Walkabout (+ ph)

1973

Don't Look Now

1976

The Man Who Fell to Earth

1980

Bad Timing

1981

Dallas through the Looking Glass

1982

Eureka

1985

Insignificance

1986

Castaway

1987

Episode in Aria

1988

Track 29

1989

The Witches; Sweet Bird of Youth (for TV)

1992

Cold Heaven

1993

Heart of Darkness (for TV)

1995

Full Body Massage (for TV); Two Deaths

1996

Samson and Delilah (for TV)



Other Films:


(as camera operator)

1958

A Woman Possessed (Max Varnel); Moment of Indiscretion (Max Varnel); The Man Inside (Gilling)

1959

The Great Van Robbery (Max Varnel); Passport to Shame (Rakoff); The Child and the Killer (Max Varnel)

1960

The Trials of Oscar Wilde (Hughes); Jazz Boat (Hughes)

1961

The Sundowners (Zinnemann); Information Received (Lynn)

1962

Lawrence of Arabia (Lean) (2nd unit ph); Dr. Crippen (Lynn)

(as lighting cameraman)

1963

The Caretaker (Donner); Just for Fun (Flemyng); Nothing butthe Best (Donner)

1964

The Masque of the Red Death (Corman); The System (TheGirl Getters) (Winner); Every Day's a Holiday (Hill); Victim Five (Code Seven, Victim Five) (Lynn)

1965

Judith (Mann) (2nd unit ph)

1966

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (Lester); Farenheit 451 (Truffaut)

1967

Far from the Madding Crowd (Schlesinger); Casino Royale (Huston and others) (some sections only)

1968

Petulia (Lester)



Publications


By ROEG: articles—

Interview with Gordon Gow, in Films and Filming (London), January 1972.

"Don't Look Now," an interview with Tom Milne and Penelope Houston, in Sight and Sound (London), Winter 1973/74 and Winter 1974/75.

"Nick Roeg . . . and the Man Who Fell to Earth," with John Lifflander and Stephan Shroyer, in Inter/View (New York), March 1976.

"Roegian Thought Patterns," an interview with J. Padroff, in Films (London), September 1981.

Interview with Harlan Kennedy, in Film Comment (New York), March/April 1983.

Interview with Richard Combs, in Sight and Sound (London), Winter 1984/85.

Interview with Brian Baxter in Films and Filming (London), July 1985.

"Private Lives," an interview with G. Fuller, in Stills (London), June/July 1985.

Interview with Nick Roddick, in Cinema Papers (Melbourne), September 1985.

Interview, in La Revue du Cinéma (Paris), October 1985.

"Roeg Time," an interview with A. Alvarez, in Interview (New York), July 1988.

"Mutha Theresa: Jungle Book," an interview with Alkarim Jivani and Geoff Andrew, in Time Out (London), 28 July 1993.

"Heat and Lust," an interview with Brian Case, 12 June 1996.

"Movie Memories," in Sight and Sound (London), May sup 1996.


On ROEG: books—

Feineman, Neil, Nicolas Roeg, Boston, 1978.

Houston, Beverle, and Marsha Kinder, Self and Cinema: ATransformalist Perspective, Pleasantville, New York, 1980.

Walker, John, The Once and Future Film: British Cinema in the '70sand '80s, London, 1983.

Lanza, Joseph, Fragile Geometry: The Films, Philosophy, and Misadventures of Nicolas Roeg, New York, 1989.

Sinyard, Neal, The Films of Nicolas Roeg, London, 1991.

Izod, John, The Films of Nicolas Roeg: Myth and Mind, London, 1992.

Salwolke, Scott, Nicolas Roeg, Film by Film, Jefferson, North Carolina, 1993.

On ROEG: articles—

Kleinhans, Chuck, "Nicolas Roeg: Permutations without Profundity," in Jump Cut (Chicago), September/October 1974.

Mayersberg, Paul, "Story So Far . . . The Man Who Fell to Earth," in Sight and Sound (London), Autumn 1975.

Kolker, Robert, "The Open Texts of Nicolas Roeg," in Sight andSound (London), Spring 1977.

Kennedy, H., "The Illusions of Nicholas Roeg," in American Film (Washington, D.C.), January/February 1980.

Cros, Jean-Louis, and Raymond Lefevre, "Pour rehabiliter Nicholas Roeg," in Image et Son (Paris), June 1981.

Gomez, J., "Another Look at Nicholas Roeg," in Film Criticism (Edinboro, Pennsylvania), Fall 1981.

Pursell, M., "From Gold Nugget to Ice Crystal: The Diagenetic Structure of Roeg's Eureka," in Literature/Film Quarterly (Salisbury, Maryland), vol. 11, no. 4, October 1983.

Heaton, L., "A True Castaway," in Photoplay Movies & Video (London), February 1987.

Bernhard, S., "Right on Track," in American Film (New York), April 1988.

Barker, Adam, "What the Detective Saw, or A Case of Mistaken Identity," in Monthly Film Bulletin (London), July 1988.

Mazierska, Ewa, in Iluzjion, July-December 1991.

Uszynski, J., "Demony Nicholasa Roega," in Kino (Warsaw), October 1992.


* * *

Nicolas Roeg is a visual trickster who plays havoc with conventional screen narratives. Choosing an oblique storytelling formula, he riddles his plots with ambiguous characters, blurred genres, distorted chronologies, and open-ended themes to invite warring interpretations.

Even the most facile Roeg synopsis betrays alienation and incongruity, with characters getting caught in bewildering and hostile situations. His first effort, Performance (with co-director Donald Cammell) offers a dark look at the last days of a pursued gangster (James Fox) who undergoes a psychosexual identity change while hiding out with a has-been rock star (Mick Jagger). This psychedelic cornucopia of androgynous sex, violence, and Borges allusions blessed and cursed Roeg with the lingering label "cult director."

We had already been warned of Roeg's charming peculiarities during his cinematographer days. Such notable films as Far from the Madding Crowd and Fahrenheit 451 had odd, even anachronistic looks that sometimes ran contrary to the story proper. In fact, the latter film barely resembles Truffaut at all and looks more Roegish with its dreamy color schemes and chilly atmospherics.

Even Roeg's relatively tame second feature, Walkabout, based on a novel by James Vance Marshall, has narrative trap doors. Jarring cross-cuts, sensuous photography, and Edward Bond's enigmatic script are more satisfying to mystics than humanists. Marshall's novel is much more clear in its tale of two Australian children (Jenny Agutter and Lucien John) who get lost in the outback and are saved by an aborigine (David Gumpilil). Roeg's version is a more complex and fatalistic expose of people from separate cultures who have no hope of connecting.

Roeg flaunts a talent for shattering a relatively simple story into heady fragments with his adaptation of Daphne du Maurier's Don't Look Now. The tragedy of a couple (Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland) haunted in Venice by a psychic (Hilary Mason) claiming to communicate with their drowned daughter turns into something more than just a proto-Hitchcock thriller. As in most Roegian journeys, we emerge from Don't Look Now more discombobulated than we were at the start. Is the psychic a fraud? Is there foul play among the Venetian authorities? Could the occult implications be just a ruse? Roeg operates on a logic that is more visceral than intellectual. Instead of outright clues, we get recurrent shapes, sounds, colors, and gestures that belie a hidden order linking people and events.

Of all Roeg's work, The Man Who Fell to Earth is the most accomplished and de-centered. A space alien (David Bowie) arrives on Earth, starts a multi-million dollar enterprise and is later captured by a government-corporate collusion. What threatens to be another trite sci-fi plot becomes, in Roeg's hands, a visually stunning mental conundrum. All the continuity gaffes plaguing many an outer-space movie are here intentionally exacerbated to the point where we doubt that the "visitor" is really an alien at all. We see events mostly through the alien's abstruse viewpoint as days, months, years, even decades transpire sporadically and inconsistently. The story is a sleight-of-hand distraction that forces our attention more onto the transitory mood of loneliness and dissociation.

Unlike a purely experimental director who would flout story-lines altogether, Roeg retains the bare bones of old genres only to disfigure them. His controversial Bad Timing could easily have been an updated "Inner Sanctum" spin-off with its pathological lovers (Art Garfunkel and Theresa Russell) and the voyeuristic detective (Harvey Keitel) snooping for foul play. But the film unfolds with vignettes that tell us one thing and show another. Time and motive—the staples of mysteries—are so deviously jumbled that we can only resign ourselves to the Roeg motto that "nothing is what it seems."

Roeg's under-appreciated and least-seen Eureka starts out as an adventure about a Yukon prospector (Gene Hackman) who finds gold and becomes one of the world's richest men. But soon the story splinters into soap opera, romance, murder mystery, and even splatter film—a tortuous, visionary, frustrating, and ultimately mad epic.

Since Eureka, Roeg has been more skittish about re-entering the labyrinth. Films like Insignificance (about a night when the prototypes of Albert Einstein, Marilyn Monroe, Joe DiMaggio, and Joe McCarthy meet) and Castaway (based on Lucy Irvine's ordeal with a lover on a deserted island) have shades of the older Roeg films but lack his gift for reckless lust. The "Twilight Zone" teasers reemerge somewhat in Track 29, where he teams with absurdist scriptwriter Dennis Potter in a tale about a woman beleaguered by a man her own age who claims to be her illegitimate son. Once more, Roeg treats us to another story about frustrated love and the fragile border between "reality" and hallucination.

The career of Nicolas Roeg has in recent years been in sad decline. By far his best work in this latter period was the made-for-television feature Heart of Darkness, a moody, shadowy adaptation of the famed Joseph Conrad novella. Cold Heaven is a muddled drama about a husband who may or may not have been killed in a grisly accident just as his wife is set to leave him.

Though a well-intentioned expose of the horror of war, Two Deaths, his 1994 film, shows no evidence of a return to form. It is set during a bloody conflict. Several aristocratic types sit in a room awaiting the start of a dinner party. They complain about trifling matters, while on the streets around them blood flows like the wine they will enjoy with their meal. All too obviously, before the night is over the violence outside will intrude on their lives, with much moralizing and sermonizing along the way. Roeg beats you over the head with unsubtle symbolism: the guests slurp down oysters while a woman bleeds to death outside, and he even uses the clichéd image of a dead dove.

—Joseph Lanza, updated by Rob Edelman

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