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Nicolas Roeg Gone

from The Ringer

How Nicolas Roeg Broke Movies—and Rebuilt Them in His Own Image

At their best, the director’s masterpieces like ‘Walkabout’ and ‘Don’t Look Now’ added up not to a complete picture but a kind of Rorschach test

By

Ringer illustration

Nicolas Roeg, who died Friday at the age of 90, didn’t just bend the medium of film to his will. He broke it, splintered it, and sutured it back together. He was a like a surgeon gifted with second sight, and his movies would have probably died on the operating table with anybody else in charge. A former cinematographer who left his mark in several different areas of 1960s cinema—doing unit work for David Lean on Lawrence of Arabia; shooting Fahrenheit 451 for François Truffaut and The Masque of the Red Death for Roger Corman—Roeg had an undeniable eye for color and composition. But it was his attention to editing that made him a legend. His movies were jagged jigsaw puzzles that the viewer had to try to put together in real time; at their best, the pieces added up not to a complete picture but a kind of Rorschach test. “I prefer it,” he said once, “when the familiar is made to feel strange.”

Strange was Roeg’s sweet spot, and his run of five films from 1970 to 1980—Performance, Walkabout, Don’t Look Now, The Man Who Fell to Earth, and Bad Timing—has yet to be equalled in terms of consistently virtuoso weirdness. (The only real contender: Roeg superfan Ben Wheatley, whose Kill List is deeply indebted to Don’t Look Now, and who put an admiring quote from Roeg on the poster for his midnight-mindfuck comedy A Field in England). Because he was initially drawn to genres like gothic horror and sci-fi, Roeg attracted a cult audience, and the way that he used movie stars and rock stars guaranteed studio backing, although more often than not his financiers hated the final product: Even in 1990, when he scored a gig directing an adaptation of Roald Dahl’s The Witches for Jim Henson’s production company, he freaked out his collaborators by making Anjelica Huston’s witch queen too flamboyantly sexy for a kids movie—and pissed off Dahl by changing the book’s ending, leading to the author’s attempt to take his name off the movie.

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Posted on November 25, 2018 by Editor

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