British Director Nicolas Roeg passed over the weekend at 90. I first became aware of him, as did many others, for his directorial work on David Bowie’s 1976 movie “The Man Who Fell to Earth.”
I’ll be honest, when I first saw it–and I saw it the minute it opened–I didn’t understand it at all. But the visuals and Bowie, of course, were just dazzling.
Remember Candy Clark? She was in the movie too and just took your breathe away.
In the intervening decades, the movie has grown to cult status. In fact, Bowie’s song “Station to Station” (which, for me, has become one of Bowie’s Top Ten) uses footage from the movie.
Both the movie and album came at a time for Bowie when he was holed up in L.A., living in a darkened mansion on a diet of red peppers and cocaine. Bowie himself finally acknowledged his dark days there (he even went so far as to say L.A. should be burned to the ground).
But both the movie and that album sound as strong today as they did when they both were released.
Roeg, who began in the film business as a cinematographer, put together images that perfectly went with Bowie’s persona at the time. Check out the “Station to Station” video below.
As compelling as that film was, it was Roeg’s 1985 picture, “Insignificance,” that, for me, was as epic as his work with Bowie. This was a story about a chance meeting between four major media figures in one night.
One of them was modeled on Albert Einstein; another on Marilyn Monroe; the third was modeled on Monroe’s second husband, Yankee great Joe DiMaggio and the fourth on a shady senator modeled after Joe McCarthy, instigator of the 1950s Red Scare, one of the darkest eras in American Democracy. The dialogue, by Terry Johnson, is simply brilliant.
Roeg married actress Theresa Russell who essayed the Marilyn-character. Gary Busey, of all people, played the ballplayer and was great. Tony Curtis perfectly played the senator.
I know it sounds improbable, but it was a terrific movie, held together mostly by Curtis, then at the height of his game.
Looking back on it now, the direction was simple, but the characters and events were cataclysmic. Roeg possessed a wildly singular way of approaching subjects you’d think would never work… but did.
Roeg also directed Bad Timing (1980); Cold Heaven (1991) and Eureka (1983), but due to his unerring vision, he often had problems with the movie companies and investors.
When he made his directorial debut in 1970, Roeg was already a 23-year veteran of the British film industry, starting out in 1947 as an editing apprentice and working his way up to cinematographer twelve years later.
Many of his early firms were criticized because of his iconic style and use of jarring editing style, but have since become classics.
“Bad Timing” also starred an iconic musician, Art Garfunkel, as an American psychiatrist based in Vienna. He has an affair with fellow expatriate, played by Russell. The film revolves around an accident which causes Russell’s character to be hospitalized.
There never was anyone like Roeg. He’ll be missed