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Roeg's last great movie,
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This review is from: Bad Timing  [DVD] (DVD)
A quarter of a century since its troubled first release, 'Bad Timing' stands out as one of Nicolas Roeg's most satisfying and complex films and yet it can be one of his hardest to discuss. Even on a second viewing it's still rather overwhelming. It's interesting how it manages to be so genuinely multi-layered, more like a novel than a film - the way it mixes voyeurism, spying and emotional, psychological and legal investigation (with Keitel's investigation of the suicide scene placing him firmly in scenes as an unseen voyeur through Tony Lawson's typically brilliant editing) is remarkable enough, but the film manages to do so much more besides. And the performances are incredibly brave - how many leading men can you think of who would effectively (and quite deliberately effeminately) play the woman's role during the lovers' initial meeting? Russell in particular shows an astonishing range in what should be an impossible part, making her inability to find decent roles these days even more disappointing.
True it falls apart in the last couple of reels when the performances don't quite ring true, but it's still the last great film Nic Roeg made before settling into prolific mediocrity. It's as a brilliantly edited post-mortem into a mutually destructive relationship rather than a police mystery that it really enthralls, even when it doesn't entirely work. Much more impressive than I remembered, it's not a feelgood movie - if anything it's the date movie from hell - but it is a remarkably ambitious and acomplished one.
So why is the film so little-known and perhaps even less-seen? Well, that seems to be down to some bad luck and bad timing of its own.
In the US it hit censorship problems and in Europe it had major problems with its distribution. It was one of Rank's last full slate of British productions, so should have been guaranteed a circuit release on the Odeon chain in the UK. Unfortunately, the head of Rank Theatres was so disgusted by the film (the Rank Organisation was originally started to make religious films and many of the old guard were still in place in 1980) that he refused to book it into a single one of their theatres - the only Rank film to be so 'honored' (although he wasn't much enamoured of Eagle's Wing either). The second biggest circuit was owned by Rank's biggest rival, EMI, who weren't interested in helping out their balance sheet, so it ended up on Lew Grade's very small Classic chain. Rank's distribution in Europe was no more enthusiastic.
(Of course, Roeg's next film and most expensive, Eureka, had even bigger problems, being pulled a couple of weeks after opening due to a libel lawsuit that kept it on the shelf for years. Since then, despite the not really successful brave try with Cold Heaven, he seems to be little more than a director for hire on a slew of disappointing pictures and cable movies.)
As a result, it's long been hard to track down, but worth the effort if you're looking for challenging fare. Although not as comprehensive as Criterion's US DVD, Network's new release does offer an upgrade in extras (deleted scenes, two trailers, stills gallery, booklet and press book PDF) over the previous Carlton release, which offered only a trailer and had some edge enhancement problems.
A better bet is Criterion's Region 1 NTSC DVD, which boasts a much better transfer than the UK DVD and a more comprehensive extras package - interviews with Russell, Roeg and producer Jeremy Thomas, stills gallery and 16 deleted scenes. However, the laziness that has crept into some recent Criterion discs is evident in the latter: while 8 of those deleted scenes have no soundtrack, surely it wouldn't have been asking too much of Criterion to have included subtitles for the missing dialogue or at least to have included an introductory caption explaining the scenes? It's an irritating blemish on an otherwise excellent disc.
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Showing 1-5 of 5 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 10 Apr 2014 03:56:52 BDT
A nice informative review which I largely agree with - I will look out for the Criterion disc. Thanks for the info on Rank Organization. You rightly draw attention to the stunning editing, but I think you'll find Tony Lawson was responsible there, not Terry Rawlings. The evenness of the hyper-kinetic editing style across all of Roeg's great films from the period 1969-1985 made with a number of different editors suggests Roeg himself possessed the largest pair of scissors anyway! It's all a matter of subjective opinion of course, but I feel Eureka is a much better film than most people give it credit for and I'd rate that as Roeg's 'last great movie'. I also have a fondness for Insignificance as well, but it's certainly true the great man's career fell away alarmingly thereafter - his subsequent films have been a series of puffballs with a lack of puff if you know what I mean. Seriously though, Roeg is a sadly unsung great British director whose films surely would be more highly regarded if he had been born and worked in France or Germany. The reason he and his films are so little known is surely down to the conservative nature of both the English and American film industries which at the height of his creative power never really understood the nature of what they were dealing with. Peter Greenaway, to pick another arty anti-establishment type did the right thing by moving to Holland to make sure he could do exactly what he wanted without interference. Perhaps Roeg should have moved to the continent as well...
In reply to an earlier post on 10 Apr 2014 21:50:23 BDT
Last edited by the author on 10 Apr 2014 21:54:47 BDT
Trevor Willsmer says:
My bad on the two Ts - now corrected. Though its interesting to note that Roeg was always very adamant about having nothing to do with the editing of Performance, which was really desined by Donald Cammel and Frank Mazzola, established what became pretty much the Roeg house editing style (when the film ran into problems with the studio, Roeg went to extraordinary lengths to distance himself from it at the time). I'm overdue a rewatch for Eureka, but I was always more impressed with the hallucinatory Alaskan sequences than the rest of the film - but then, so was Hackman's character.
In reply to an earlier post on 15 Apr 2014 02:39:46 BDT
Last edited by the author on 15 Apr 2014 02:44:51 BDT
Can you clarify where you get your info re Roeg always being adamant about having nothing to do with the editing of Performance and then went to extraordinary lengths to distance himself from the film? As I understand it Anthony Gibbs and Brian Smedly-Aston were the initial editors and Roeg collaborated closely with them. Frank Mazzola and Tony Palmer got in on the act only when Warner Bros showed their unhappiness with the original cut and Cammel was forced to cast around for help once Roeg had left to fulfill his obligation of going to Australia to shoot Walkabout. Knowing the vississitudes of the Hollywood system (Roeg had been fired as assistant director from Lawrence of Arabia for one thing) perhaps he didn't want to get involved in protracted legal wrangling, especially as the film had been taken out of his hands. Performance does have his fingerprints all over it though and for me it's interesting to note that the house 'Roeg style' was actually established with Richard Lester's Petulia (1968) rather than Performance. That film was shot by Roeg and edited by Gibbs as well. I know the tendency is now to see Performance as mainly the work of Donald Cammell, but one can't ignore the connections with both Petulia and the Roeg films to follow, especially as we know for fact that two thirds of the original Cammell script was discarded to make way for the kalaidoscopic kinetic style of the main part of the picture that takes place in the house - it bears all the hallmarks of a film which has been created in the cutting room and amounts to a classic Roeg text. For that reason I have always seen Performance as being his film (I can't accept Cammell and Mazzola were the real designers) and find it difficult to disregard his importance on the editing however much he has sought to disclaim it. Where do your get your info that he has always maintained a distance? It would be fascinating to see the first cut that Warners rejected, but that's unlikely to happen now.
In reply to an earlier post on 19 Apr 2014 15:57:11 BDT
Last edited by the author on 19 Apr 2014 15:58:31 BDT
Trevor Willsmer says:
Sorry for the late reply - computer was down and had to be repaired.
When I was working at Warners in 1998 we looked into the possibility of a restoration and pulled all the footage, surviving cutting notes and correspondance from the various archives. It wasn't too surprising that at the time Roeg went out of his way to distance himself from the film since Walkabout hadn't started shooting and he wasn't an established director and therefore emminently replaceable, but aside from contemporary memos and interviews distancing himself from the film and its post-production (although it was never spelled out exactly, the implication throughout was that Roeg's involvement was purely technical and ended after the assembly process), when he was contacted about the project, he declined to be involved on similar grounds. Since Cammell had committed suicide a couple of years earlier and the differences between his and Mazzola's version and that released were surprisingly slight (more censorship than structural issues), the project died on the vine.
In reply to an earlier post on 24 Apr 2014 04:27:44 BDT
Many thanks for the inside feed. What a shame Roeg didn't choose to co-operate with the restoration. I love Performance and have come across a number of different versions. It would be great to have one that could be labelled 'definitive'. Perhaps Roeg thinks/thought that's a decision he can't/couldn't make with Cammell no longer alive. It was a truly collaborative project and perhaps should be left alone. The version that we now have of the film on DVD from Warners is as complete as any I have seen and I guess we should be happy with that. Cheers.
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