DOM: Don’t Look Now (Roeg, UK, 1973)

Met a dwarf that was no good
Dressed like little Red Riding Hood
Bad habit taking life
Calling card a six inch knife
Ran off really fast
Mumbled something `bout the past
Best sex I`ve ever seen
As if each moment was the last
Drops of blood colour slide
Funeral for his bride
But it`s him who`s really dead
Gets to take the funeral ride

 E=MC² Big Audio Dynamite

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Nicolas Roeg began work as a camera operator (working on Lawrence Of Arabia among others) before being promoted to cinematographer and giving his distinctive look to Roger Corman’s “The Masque Of The Red Death” and working with Julie Christie on “Fahrenheit 451”, “Far From The Madding Crowd” and “Petulia” before making his directorial debut in 1968 with “Performance” (Co-directed with Donald Cammell), the film hit problems with the censor and was held up until 1970, when it did emerge, it was perhaps the most important British film of the era. Mick Jagger gave his best performance and James Fox was so disturbed by the making of the film, it was at least another decade before he made another film. By the time of it’s release Roeg had moved on to Australia to direct Jenny Agutter naked in “Walkabout”.

It is perhaps his 1973 film that we should remember him for. Adapted from a short story by Daphne Du Maurier, a favourite of Alfred Hitchcock (“Rebecca”, “Jamaica Inn” and “The Birds”), it concerns the drowning of a young girl and how her parents try to come to terms with it in Venice whilst a series of murders are taking place.

If you have seen David Lean’s 1955 film “Summertime” (AKA “Summer Madness”) in which I think Katherine Hepburn gives her greatest performance, Venice is the city of love where it is always sunny and never rains. This is not the Venice here, the city is falling apart and the drained out colours with flashes of red make it almost seem grey and near death.

When I first saw this film in 1991 I went off the review in Halliwell’s which gave it *** stars and said “It has to be seen to be appreciated” well isn’t that the point of any film? Also he gave away a big spoiler (the ending) in his review, which sort of spoilt it for me as I was waiting for this moment to occur, I have to admit, I got a bit bored and fast forwarded through some of it!

I saw the film again a couple of years later when it was shown in a Movie Classics season on BBC-1, again the print was very murky, that sort of drained out look you get from 1960s and 70s colour photographs and I still think of the film this way, which probably adds to it. I still wasn’t that impressed by it.

I suppose in a way I wanted that 60s Julie Christie as Lara in “Doctor Zhivago”, but having watched Richard Lester’s “Petulia” recently, I realise that Roeg managed to get a more natural Christie than Lean ever did.

And so 22 years have passed, it was Dirk and another friend (who watched it on first release) kept going on at me about this, I have come to appreciate it after many (at first) forced trips to the cinema and then to watch it on blu-ray!

Roeg’s cross cutting and flash forward and back may dizzy you at first, but once you have settled down to it, it remains perhaps the high watermark of British cinema in the 1970’s.

The unsettling look of everything, that you sort of anticipate something is about to happen. I don’t want to give too much away for those who have never seen it. This is a film that does improve with viewings like perhaps the greatest of all films, Hitchcock’s “Vertigo”. You have to loose yourself in it and then some. Roeg made some of the most interesting films of the 1970’s, it is a shame his career hasn’t matched this since.

One response to “DOM: Don’t Look Now (Roeg, UK, 1973)

  1. Pingback: Dirking about … The best posts of 2013 | The Dirk Malcolm Alternative·

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