Bowie, an Alien who comes to Earth experiences sexuality and greed as he encounters, learns from and interacts with the humans. It was actually a film which was heavily inspired by The Man Who Fell To Earth, Under The Skin, which prompted my interest to finally watch it. Under The Skin, which is one of the most affecting I’ve seen in the last decade, owes a lot to Roeg and Bowie’s collaboration. Despite that childhood curiosity and desire to see this Bowie film, it took me a while to get round to watching it. It’s not easy viewing. I still feel like I need a couple more viewings to get fully attuned but it sticks with you regardless. It leaves a mark, which is the sign of affecting cinema. The requisite goal of cinema changes from film to film and not every picture is pre-occupied with audience enjoyment. Some want to challenge, push, and engage you. Some want you to still be thinking about it in a years time, and come back for another round. Think Requiem For A Dream for example. It’s not made for simple entertainment, or to be enjoyed. It’s going to kick you in the gonads, and then ask you to come back for another go in a few years. You’ll get a little voice in your head saying ‘I think your nards need a good punt…it’s Requiem time.’ For some differing reasons, The Man Who Fell To Earth is similar. You may not entirely like it, because it’s not openly accessible, but if it doesn’t revile you entirely (it looks fantastic, Bowie is magnetic and it’s kooky enough to have the power to pull you back) you may feel compelled to try again, and this is the power of those very culty, cult movies. Like the majority, particularly with art-house sensibility, they pull you back in.
Bad Timing came in 1980. Another initially divisive film that accentuated Roeg’s love of the lurid. Art Garfunkel begins a torrid relationship with Theresa Russell (The first of a number of films she starred in for her husband, Roeg). The film would mark an end to a productive and interesting decade, as his career started in a downward slope. Castaway was a film I remember catching late one night as a teen on Channel 5. As is a teen won’t, and pre-internet, something like the Radio-times had the good grace to tell you if a film contained nudity. Castaway, which sees Amanda Donahoe stranded with Oliver Reed on a desert island, is essentially the pair wondering around stark Billy-Bollocks for the entire film. Beyond that, my recollections of the film are hazy, although to its credit, and possibly due to atypically great photography I actually sat through the whole film. Needless to say this film came during a period that Roeg was getting shredded by critics (and likewise, Reed).
A number of forgettable films (with some stellar casts) lead to a steadier decline into uninspired TV movies in the 1990’s, including Full Body Massage (thank you Radio Times warning) which despite luridly focusing on Mimi Rogers topless for large swathes of the film, was actually pretty engaging thanks to the interaction between her and Bryan Brown. Prior to this however, Roeg delivered a film that has remained memorable to this day. A film which enraptured youth and terrified them in equal measure in 1990. Somewhat bizarrely given his career to that point, and his decreasing status as an auteur. A Roald Dahl adaptation didn’t seem like something that would naturally find its way to Roeg but it did. Dahl’s books of course, whilst aimed at children, were often impishly twisted so there was certainly scope for a bit of Roeg’s style.
Whilst Roeg didn’t entirely shake off his creative decline for The Witches, what he delivered was a film that terrified kids at that age. The book, which has a macabre humour, was certainly fairly well adhered to, but inspiration comes in the form of Roeg’s style and an inspired performance from Anjelica Huston. She’s horrifying, particularly after a finale reveal of her true Witch form (complete with some brilliantly gruesome makeup that wouldn’t look out of place in a David Cronenberg horror film). The film isn’t perhaps as good as the childhood memories many my age have of the film (like a lot of kids films I suppose) but it still holds muster, and despite some inconsistency, the great moments are unforgettable.
I won’t claim to have seen every Roeg film, but every single one, from his iconic pieces, to some long forgotten TV movies, have never been less than watchable. Even when his inspiration was on a lower ebb, within those films remained moments of vision and impact that could bring back to mind the visionary days of Don’t Look Now or Walkabout. Cinema will miss this directing rule breaker. This once great maestro of celluloid emotional manipulation.
Lets us know your favourite Nicolas Roeg films in the comments below…
Tom Jolliffe is an award winning screenwriter and passionate cinephile. He has three features due out on DVD/VOD in 2019 and a number of shorts hitting festivals. Find more info at the best personal site you’ll ever see…http://tomjolliffe.wordpress.com/films/