Roeg: Genius/Charlatan?

Congratulations on Ryan’s Guardian piece. Expertly done, against the clock, it’s an attempt to link the two. But I must take issue with the use of Performance to illustrate a point about Nicolas (look, no ‘H’) Roeg.
Performance, surely, was 90% Donald Cammell’s work. He WROTE THE SCRIPT – a not insignificant factor – and directed, until Roeg – who knew a thing or two about cinematography – helped out with the direction.
Ditto Roeg’s ‘radical reinvention’ of film theory – stolen/borrowed ENTIRELY from Richard Lester’s Petulia (1968), on which Roeg was DP – is totally a British invention. Forget the American, a Brit THOUGHT OF IT FIRST! Well, actually, he didn’t. Lester did, and Roeg – a gifted imitator, as all DPs have to be – ‘borrowed’ it for his work on Performance, and – hey presto – a new career as a director was born…
Sure, all filmmakers have the ‘gifted imitator’ thing inside them. Film directing is (basically) a charlatan-like profession (as all screenwriters know) – and none the worse for it. Roeg was a gifted imitator (and also a gifted pornographer; ditto – none the worse for it) and he crafted a good-ish second career as a director, as some DPs do. 
Certainly, his directorial career was a lot more assured than, say, Jack Cardiff (and Roeg’s DP career was less extraordinary. Nobody will make a Roeg DP doc like they did in Cameraman, which is available FOR FREE on YouTube). Roeg did – as all good DPs do – what his director told him (or could tell him). Cardiff, by contrast, was the official only Technicolor DP in Britain, and did more or less what he liked for ten years, from Black Narcissus (1947) to The Vikings (1958, by RICHARD FLEISCHER!). Thereafter he tried to become a (from what I’ve seen TERRIBLE) director (of, amazingly, 14 films!). Eventually, the message got thru and he became a fine DP again, only of anything, from Rambo: First Blood Part II (I always loved that title – and DETESTED the film…) to Conan The Destroyer(Fleischer again…).
Roeg made Don’t Look Now, which was a very subtle and scary horror film. But in basically 5 or so close watchings over 35 years, his ‘Julie Christie’s pregnant’ thing TOTALLY ELUDED me – and, I bet, 99% of the audience. Does ANYONE get it before they’ve read Roeg saying: ‘ah, or course Julie Christie’s pregnant!’ If it’s so crucial, why on earth didn’t he make more of it? Or was it just a case of – on his 2.1nd film – directorial incompetence? Did he think of it later, after the shoot, and try to ‘rationalise’ the whole irrational film in interviews?
I saw Bad Timing (1980) several times when a virgin, and thought it brilliant. But – when I’d actually HAD sex, and realised it could be extraordinarily FUN – I thought: Is Bad Timing REALLY what he thought about sex? No, he’s a charlatan (natch) who just thinks it’d be amusing to make a downbeat pic. (He ALWAYS made downbeat pics, a sure sign of the charlatan. Ingmar Bergman, it seems, was very amusing in person. So WHY ON EARTH didn’t he put amusement in his pics? Because – natch – he’s also a charlatan who thinks: It’ll be better box-office if I always make them DEPRESSING…)
Roeg had sex with Theresa Russell (28 years his junior) and cast her in many more films (and in Aria, 1987, as a bloke – he was kinky too!). So, presumably, the sex was good, n’est-ce pas? But NOT in Bad Timing (which always struck me as a joke, as in the German for bath: Bad as in Marienbad, or Bad Colberg, or Bad Frankenhausen etc…). It’s set in Vienna – Bad Luxury – isn’t it?
For the rest, Roeg’s films were all failures (and commercial failures too). I ‘only’ watched till Heart Of Darkness (1993), when the scales fell… Still – ten plus films seen for one good movie – that’s good enough… (For a charlatan…)
And why do people – who’ve never met him – ALWAYS describe him as ‘Nic’. Just to show off their French spelling? It says ‘Nicolas Roeg’ in the credits of the movies, so why not give him that?
Nicolas Roeg (1928-2018), DP, a good (tho imitative) director and (equally good) pornographer, about on the same level as Tony Scott. RIP


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I had a stroke on July 26th, 2013. I was a screenwriter. Don’t do that anymore. But have found another way to write.

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