Obituary of Nicholas Roeg: from the teapot to the director's chair

adminNovember 24, 2018

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Nicolas Roeg was one of the most original filmmakers that the UK has produced.

His early experience as a director of photography brought a surprising visual quality to his work.

He often exasperated critics and earned a reputation for being hard on his actors.

And he delighted in the scenes and the time to confuse and disconcert his audience.

Nicolas Roeg was born in St. John & # 39; s Wood in North London on August 15, 1928. His father Jack, of Dutch descent, worked in the diamond trade, but lost a lot of money when his investments failed in South Africa.

The first movie he remembered seeing as a child was Babes in Toyland, starring Laurel and Hardy.

Roeg did his National Service after World War II before getting a job to make tea and operate the clapboard board at Marylebone Studios, where he worked on several minor films.

In the early 1960s, he had become a camera operator, especially in The Trials of Oscar Wilde and Fred Zinnemann's film The Sundowners.

He was part of the second unit of Lawrence Lean by David Lean. Lean then dismissed him as director of photography at Doctor Zhivago after the two constantly quarreled.

Many of the impressive scenes that won this last film and an Oscar were filmed by Roeg, but it was not accredited.

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The graphic scenes in Performance impacted the studio.

His breakthrough came in 1964, when he worked as cinematographer on Roger Corman's film, The Red Death Mask, an adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe's short story, starring Vincent Price.

Corman was gaining a reputation for spotting and developing new talent and driving the careers of other future directors, including James Cameron and Martin Scorsese.

Interestingly, the figure dressed in red in the Corman film presaged a character dressed in a similar way in Roeg's masterpiece, Do not Look Now.

He also worked on Francois Truffaut's Farenheit 451, which was notable for the brilliant tones in which it was filmed, and on John Schlesinger's adaptation of Thomas Hardy's 1967 novel Far From the Madding Crowd.

& # 39; Hallucinogenic intensity & # 39;

This last film earned him a nomination for Bafta for his exuberant photograph of rural Dorset, forming the background of the story of love and betrayal in a 19th century agricultural community.

His first foray into the direction came in a somewhat controversial style, when he co-directed the film Performance with Donald Cammell, who had written the story.

The story of a confrontation between James Fox as a gangster and Mick Jagger as a pop star contained graphic scenes of violence and drug use that scared the studio so much that it delayed the release of the film for two years.

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Walkabout had impressive shots of the Australian landscape

When Performance finally arrived on British cinema screens, Roeg had moved to Australia for his solo directorial debut, Walkabout. It was starring Jenny Agutter and her young son, Luc Roeg, as two white children who escaped from their murderous father, who are friends of an aboriginal teenager.

The shots of the Roeg desert and its wildlife produced images that a critic described as "almost hallucinogenic in intensity," and combined this with his talent for improvising and mixing scenes and events to build the final image.

He also became famous for the frontal nude photos of 17-year-old Jenny Agutter, which provoked much discussion among film censors, although they were allowed in the final release.

There was a brief trip to Somerset in 1972 to shoot a documentary about Glastonbury Fayre, then a simple embryo of what would later become the festival.

Graphic sex scene

In 1973, Roeg embarked on what many consider his most notable film, Don & # 39; t Look Now, a psychological thriller based on a short story by Daphne du Maurier.

Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland play a young couple moving to Venice after the drowning of their young daughter.

They meet two elderly psychics who claim to have seen their daughter. Meanwhile, the images of a hooded figure in red, the color his daughter wore when he died, flutter in the background.

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Don & # 39; t Look Now showed the unique style of Roeg

The film was notable for an extremely graphic sex scene between the two main characters that Roeg deliberately interspersed with scenes of the couple preparing to leave after their rendezvous to outperform the film censors, although he received an X certificate in the UK.

This fragmented style of editing was used throughout the film, adding to the accumulation towards the horrible climax. In many ways, he was the personification of Roeg's style: disdain for graphic scripts; The love of improvisation and a puzzle of images. He won a Bafta nomination.

Launched in British theaters with The Wicker Man as film B, it offered a double-billed prize for lovers of mystery and the macabre.

Don & # 39; t Look Now was the highest point in Roeg's career, although he continued to make many more films.

Nature driven

The man who fell to earth, starring David Bowie as an extraterrestrial, was filled with the impressive images for which Roeg had become famous, but the story was uneven. It did not help the fact that Bowie was at the height of his cocaine addiction.

The critics were not impressed at that time, although, as is the way of these things, since then it has reached a cult status.

Roeg's next film, Bad Timing, starring Art Garfunkel and Theresa Russell, who later married Roeg, was again notable for his images, but scenes of sexual perversion persuaded distributors, Rank, not to show them on their own cinemas, despite a considerable investment. in the shooting.

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David Bowie was fighting drug addiction when he worked with Roeg

Roeg's driven nature was highlighted when he fired for 24 hours without giving anyone a break, prompting Garfunkel and most of the team to threaten a strike.

As a follow-up, Eureka, starring Gene Hackman, suffered a similar fate when his main supporters, MGM, complained that Roeg had not delivered the film they expected, and said that a taut thriller had become a boring murder mystery.

Castaway was based on a book by Lucy Irvine, who had accepted the invitation to spend a year on a desert island with a man she had never met. While the lush tropical landscape allowed Roeg to show his mastery of color, the sizzling plot and the one-dimensional performances of Oliver Reed and Amanda Donohoe saw him sink into the box office.

His version of the story of Roald Dahl, The Witches, released in 1990, was entertaining enough, particularly the exaggerated performance of Angelica Houston, but failed to fully show Roeg's talents as a filmmaker.

There was a series of uncomplicated films that included a television adaptation of Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness and, strangely, an erotic film for cable television, Full Body Massage.

In 2007, his adaptation of the novel Fay Weldon, Puffball, a tale of black magic in rural Ireland, became his last major film. Rita Tushingham and Miranda Richardson did the best they could, but they did nothing to reach the heights of Roeg's best work.

Nicolas Roeg was both a great director of photography and an inventive director, who stamped his own unique image on the films he made. A critic described him as a magician and a juggler.

"I never did a storyboard," he once said. "I like the idea of ​​chance, what makes people laugh is the people who make plans."

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