This past Friday the filmmaker Nicolas Roeg passed away at the age of 90. After starting out as a cinematographer and camera operator for over twenty years, Roeg finally made the leap to the director's chair with the 1970 film Performance, and for a while crafted one cinematic masterpiece after another that deconstructed the realities of each film's protagonists. Roeg's expressive cinematography and cubist editing brought viewers into the realities of his film's characters in ways that continue to reverberate in movies today.
If you're new to Roeg's films it's best to start with his first film Performance, which was listed on the British Film Institute's list of the 100 greatest British films of all time. Released in 1970 after being delayed for over two years due to its graphic content, the film stars James Fox as a violent gangster who collects debts for his mob boss and decides to get away from the criminal underworld by hiding in the mansion of a reclusive rock star played by Mick Jagger. What originally began as a film more akin to the Beatles A Hard Day's Night turned into something much darker and more experimental.
Roeg's next film took him to a much different setting and further illustrated how adept he was as a filmmaker. Released in 1971 Walkabout is the story of a young sister and brother who must survive in the Australian outback after their father kills himself and leaves the kids to die. The children befriend an Aboriginal boy who cares for them while they embark on an aimless journey that is both idyllic and fraught. Roeg utilizes cross-cutting, naturalistic scenes, and improvisation to capture a complicated portrait of the natural world rarely seen on film.
From British Gangsters to the Australian outback, Roeg ventured into the supernatural to create a disturbing portrait of loss set in the decaying city of Venice. Containing one of the saddest opening scenes of all time, Don't Look Now stars Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie as a married couple visiting Venice after the death of their daughter. What starts out as a film about grief turns into a supernatural thriller as a clairvoyant warns the couple that their daughter is trying to contact them from the afterlife with a warning. This multi-layered film contains Roeg's trademark impressionistic editing and one of the greatest love scenes in the history of film.
Another masterpiece that remains a cult classic to this day is The Man Who Fell to Earth. This time Roeg would work with the rock star David Bowie as an alien who arrives on Earth to obtain water for his planet that is experiencing a severe drought. The film however becomes something more profound and thought-provoking as the world begins to corrupt Bowie's character. Instead of a race against time to save the planet of Bowie's alien character, Roeg creates a provocative examination of consumerism and alienation that has managed to endure as one of most visionary science fiction films of all time.
Believe or not Roeg would go on to create several other films worth watching including a psychosexual thriller starring Art Garfunkel as a psychiatrist called Bad Timing, an adaptation of Road Dahl's The Witches, and an examination of Marilyn Monroe and Albert Einstein titled Insignificance. All of these films can be found within the St. Louis Public Library's collection of movies.