The 1970s was the heyday of what was still known, with a Victorian underestimation, like the love scene: those twisted sands of naked intimacy, which the spectators experienced with a touch of voyeuristic admiration, to the point that they spoke of the scenes for years, or even decades. And, with the exception of the clash of close encounters in "Last Tango in Paris," no love scene from the 70s was as celebrated, as mentioned, or faded like the one that appeared a year later in "Don & # 39 ; t Look Now, "The cooler of 1973, splendidly spooky, could be said to be the best film directed by Nicolas Roeg, who died on Friday at 90 years old.
The two stars of the film, Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie, were considered deliriously attractive at the time, although if you look at the movie today, they look more or less like what they were playing: an attractive but common middle class couple that still he staggers in grief. Of the accidental death of his young daughter. The two stay in Venice, while the character of Sutherland, an art restorer, renews an old church. Her love scene is splendidly romantic, backed by the softest chords of soft rock, but she is also nude, graphic and orgasmic. (Nowadays, it is hard to believe that rumors about whether the two actors were doing more than acting were not exploited further for advertising purposes, but no, they were both simply treated as actors playing roles).
Despite his voluptuous audacity, what really made this a Nicolas Roeg's scene was his bold structural tactic: Roeg interspersed sex with the photos of the couple dressed after they had finished, looking as bored as they had been ecstatic a few minutes before. That cunning piece of editing, which was partly a way of trying to calm the censors, transformed the meaning of the passion of the scene. He said: This may seem like a wild thing, but do not let that fool you, it's just life.
The scene also said what all the films of Nicolas Roeg do: that the past is present, the climax is the prelude, and even the most elementary acts belong to a circle of destiny.
"Do not look now," based on a novel by Daphne du Maurier, was full of disturbing cuts and sinister portents, all driven by Roeg's visionary ability as a cinematic manipulator of time and memory. No movie has allowed you to taste the greatness and the rot, or the vertiginous anxiety, that arises from the ancient labyrinth of Venice as it does "Do not look now". In 1973, the film had the impact of the new and, in a way, never lost it. It was the first film of the cinema. modern Gothic, the first story of a ghost world that seemed to develop in a place where such things were too cheesy to exist. "Do not look now" was about more than scare (although he did very well, especially when a small mysterious figure with a red hood appeared); It was a tear in the cosmic fabric. It was a poem of prismatic fear that made it seem as if the nightmare was breaking through inside your head.
In a handful of films, Nicolas Roeg was an important film artist, revered by the hallucinating pull of his images, the sinister power of his perception and a kind of obsessive erotic quality that marked his best work. However, its apogee as a filmmaker did not last long (although it should, for all rights, have lasted longer). Born in London, he joined the British film industry 23 years before directing a film, chiseling for the first time a career as a cinematographer. He worked on David Lean's "Lawrence of Arabia," and then fought with Lean on "Doctor Zhivago," finding his own vision with Thomas Hardy's weakness on sedatives from his camera work for "Far from the Madding Crowd" (1967). ) and then the fashion-forward Godard-knows-Carnaby-St. Environment of "Petulia" (1968).
But those were largely his own director films. In 1968, Roeg finally had the opportunity to co-direct (with Donald Cammell) his own invention: "Performance", a psychodrama from a series of gangsters with London rock stars who joined the elegant James Fox and the creepy Mick Jagger. The movie was so sinisterly elliptical that his studio, Warner Bros., did not know what to do with it. They cut it out (and they did not release it until 1970), which may be one of the reasons why the movie does not make sense. However, the question of "Performance" is that you do not have to. It has a threatening atmosphere of cult of the underworld that you can not shake, sordid and foreboding, as if it were circling around an abyss, and everything comes together when Jagger sings "Memo from Turner", a scene hypnotic enough to suggest what "A Clockwork Orange" would have looked like Mick as Alex.
Between "Performance" and "Don & # 39; t Look Now," Roeg did what we could almost call his idiosyncratic version of a Disney movie: "Walkabout" (1971), set in the Australian outback, and described the connection between a tramp. Aboriginal (David Gulpilil) and two stranded brothers (Jenny Agutter and Luc Roeg, the director's son). The history of survival and intercultural friendship was conventional, however, the images of Roeg gave some depth to his humanity. The film indicated that Roeg could approach almost any subject and infuse it with his sensitivity.
However, he wanted a wide audience, and in 1976, the year before "Star Wars", he made one of the last large-scale science fiction films to use futuristic images to tell a disturbing story of is world. "The Man Who Fell to Earth" was the first, and even the most resonant, film to discover the silky, decadent mystique of David Bowie, who plays an alien who lands on earth in search of water for his own parched planet. But it is your destiny to be fatally absorbed in the place you are visiting. He becomes a corporate entrepreneur, an addict of alabaster skin and an apathetic creature with an earthly appetite who watches several television sets at once: such a prophetic image of the place we were heading as in any film of the 70s. " The Man Who Fell to Earth "is, in a way, a primitive cousin of" Blade Runner ", is another texture film that asks you to experience it as a dark dream, with Bowie as a languid science fiction macabre. Figure of Christ It remains a prosperous cult film and should have established Roeg, who was then 48 years old, as one of our fantasy creators.
However, his career vanished and never reignited in any shocking way. And I say it as someone who is really a big fan of his next movie. "Bad Timing: A Sensual Obsession", released in 1980, is the latest "classic" film by Nicolas Roeg, the last one to be rooted in an aesthetic of time and images of fractured mental game that feels hypnotic in his command. The topic? Male toxicity, in the extreme. The film is starring Art Garfunkel, in an occasionally awkward but daring performance, as a psychiatrist who falls in love with a fatal emotionally broken woman, played with great force by Theresa Russell (the actress who became Roeg's wife). When the two separate, the character of Garfunkel, through a combination of despair and retaliation, commits an act so horrible that the film seems like it should be a scandal. However, almost nobody saw it. And the rest of Roeg's career became a footnote.
I liked one or two of his nonsense, like "Insignificance" (1985), a comedy with a mentality in movement that brings together a klatsch of icons of the twentieth century (Michael Emil as Albert Einstein, Theresa Russell as Marilyn Monroe, who in the movie it really does an effective job of explaining Einsteinian physics). There are admirers (though not me) of "The Witches", Roeg Dahl's adaptation of Roeg in 1990, who never found his target audience. But the truth that can torment you about Nicolas Roeg's career after 1980 is not reduced to the insignificance of the films he made. It is the alternative universe, quite easy to imagine, of the films that might They have done, if they had merged their techniques with the machinery of escapism.
Okay, that's a possible route. However, it's not as if "Do not look now" was so artistic or intellectual (it was a horror movie), and one can imagine the kind of smartly deceptive espionage thriller that Roeg could have created. Starting with "Performance," he made a total of four (or maybe five) movies that really mattered. However, rethinking her sensuality and serenity awake, and in all her indelible images (Mick Jagger with his greased hair, the demon in the red hood, Donald Sutherland hanging from a broken scaffolding of the church, David Bowie, who he is speechless), Now I want to go back and observe them all, to live in that place where people fall to the earth and, at the same time, to seek in all senses to escape from their confines.