Our hero James Fox is trashing the office of a gambler who didn’t pay protection, which is a trend in movies I watched this week. The gambler then trashes Fox’s place and gets shot for it, now Fox has to lay low until his boss can get him onto a boat for New York. He stays with some druggie beatniks who grow mushrooms, led by Anita Pallenberg and including Mick Jagger. Now we’ve got two of the worst kind of people in movies: the violent gangster and the drippy hippie. The hippies’ influence is felt on the filmmaking – once we arrive at the house, the editing stops jumping into the future/past and the camera roves around more.

Hard to see Fox’s makeshift red-paint hair-dye job in this light:

Mick dances with a fluorescent light then lip-syncs a music video. Fox inevitably gets fed a crazy mushroom. When his men come to pick him up, he shoots Mick in the head and maybe becomes him. At one point I paused to look up whether Bergman’s Persona had opened in the UK early enough to have been an influence (yep, mid-1967).

Brown sugar in the foreground when Mick is introduced:

It’s all more sordid than I was expecting… gonna have to be one of those respected cinema classics that doesn’t become a personal fave. At least Peter Labuza agrees. Roeg’s first movie as (co-) director, having ended his cinematographer-for-hire career with Petulia. Writer/director Cammell later made three other features which all sound intriguing: an audiophile serial killer, Anne Heche as a call girl, and a computer impregnates Julie Christie.

Two kids are playing while the girl’s parents (Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie) are inside. Girl drowns in a pond wearing a red jacket. Donald senses danger and rushes outside, too late. Roeg is in top form, between Walkabout and Man Who Fell to Earth, with editing that kept making me say “whoa” out loud, and this must be one of the most thrilling movie openings (and endings) ever. Wonder if this is what Trier was aiming to outdo with his own child-death opening of Antichrist.

The family is in Venice while Donald works on architectural restorations. Julie meets a blind psychic who says her dead daughter is happy, is troubled by this but wants to see the psychic again if she has contact with the daughter. Donald is experiencing spooky visions and having near-fatal accidents, while incidentally, there seems to be a murderer on the loose and the psychic tells him he’s in danger and should get out of town. The movie continues building atmosphere without much story to speak of, until Donald has a fatal encounter with the local murderer, a midget women with a red jacket like the daughter’s and a sharp knife. Predates The Shining in featuring characters who can see visions of the future but this doesn’t actually help them.

Now that I’ve seen this, I wonder if Cronenberg was attempting a grotesque parody/reference with The Brood. Original story by Daphne du Maurier (The Birds & Rebecca). Nominated for all the Baftas, winning cinematography. Blind psychic Hilary Mason later appeared in a couple Stuart Gordon movies.

Need to see again… and again.

Ben Wheatley:

It’s an odd feeling, the realisation that you may have to revisit films at every stage of your life. I thought I’d “done” Don’t Look Now. I had no idea. I suppose I should have had a clue as it’s a Roeg film. It’s a kaleidoscope of meaning. I’m looking forward to seeing it again in 10 years’ time.

I probably put off watching this for so long because I’d written down years ago that I’d already seen it, in the dark days of the pre-blog era. No recollection of any scenes while watching, so that must’ve been in error. Based on a novel, though I wonder how much of the original writing is left after Roeg got through with it. Roeg’s first movie with a solo directing credit. Jenny Agutter (“the girl”) went on to star in An American Werewolf in London and Child’s Play 2, Nic Roeg’s son Luc (“white boy”) is now a producer, worked on Spider and We Need to Talk About Kevin, and David Gulpilil, only 18 when this came out, became the most reliable Aboriginal actor from The Last Wave to Ten Canoes.

The kids are on a picnic with their father, when he starts shooting at them then torches the car and kills himself. Hardly fazed, the kids walk off into the wasteland. But we know from Man Who Fell To Earth and Insignificance that human emotion isn’t Roeg’s strong suit, so we focus on the visuals and editing, which are amazing and strange. For instance, mid-film there’s a page-turn transition giving the brief impression that the whole thing is a storybook. And in the middle of a cross-fade, one of the two overlapping scenes cuts to a different shot – you don’t do that!

Plenty of wildlife. Cool lizards, parakeets, cockatoos, hawks and things I don’t even know what they’re called. But it’s not a good movie to watch just for the pretty wildlife, unless you’re prepared to see David G. spear some kangaroos.

All sorts of extras on the Criterion release, which I need to get sometime. Meanwhile I’ve got P. Ryan’s essay from the website:

Toward the film’s end, it is the turn of the young aborigine to display, by means of a sexually charged ritual dance directed at the girl. The girl’s fearful rejection of him leads to another major change from the novel. There, the native boy dies from a virus to which he would not have been exposed if not for his encounter with these outsiders; in the film, the young man takes his own life. A film with two suicides and a delicately sensual nude scene was never destined for the label of “children’s classic,” and yet one can sense that Roeg has trust in the reaction of an adolescent audience, for he is speaking the truth of adolescence to us all.

Not that I’m a brilliant postcolonial scholar over here, but I saw more to David’s death than sexual rejection. When he finds the stupid white kids, they’re desperate and dehydrated. He shows them how to find food and water, leads them on a days-long hike to the place where he thinks the girl is asking to be led. She just wants her own civilization, but he bypasses roads and houses, leaving them to an abandoned farmhouse. Once there, she stops acting as his equal or follower, goes inside and cleans up, leans out the window with a bucket asking him for water, which he fetches. Now she’s in her element, and his role is to be her servant. Then a few scenes contrasting his traditional hunting methods with the shooting massacre of a rifle-toting white man – with jarring freezes and reverse photography. The mating dance seems like he’s defensively embracing his traditions and manhood, too late.

Afterwards one of the great endings, Petulia-reminiscent, as she’s back in her high apartment listening to some man talk about boring business, having a flashback to when she swam naked and free with a stranger in the outback. More from Ryan:

Much has been written about the “fragmented” style that Roeg has employed in so many of his films — Don’t Look Now, The Man Who Fell to Earth, and Bad Timing all play with linear narrative, setting subtle traps for the viewer and commanding our close attention. In Walkabout, this style serves to enhance the sense of memory that pervades the film. All coming-of-age stories are fundamentally memory stories, rooted in recollections of a time of great intensity, of growing, of puzzling, of understanding. We look back at that stage in our life and find memories of the pain we felt and the pain we inflicted, unthinkingly, because we did not understand ourselves and our burgeoning relationship to a new, strange adult world. The strangeness of that world for the girl in Walkabout is deepened by the landscape; for the aboriginal boy, it is deepened by his encounter with people for whom his lifelong training has ill prepared him.

“The happy highways where I went and cannot come again” – the closing poem is also the source of the phrase Blue Remembered Hills. And as Roeg borrowed, so was he borrowed from – one kid saying “I don’t suppose it matters which way we go” was used in the Books song Be Good To Them Always.

Forgot what a sad movie this is. Bowie falls to earth, finds a patent lawyer (Get Smart creator Buck Henry), makes more money than Steve Jobs, but the government interferes in his plan to return home with water for his desert planet and he ends up a secluded musician, discovered in hiding by his stalker/employee Rip Torn.

The 1970’s were the kind of ridiculous time when Rip Torn could be a sex symbol, starring as Henry Miller in Tropic of Cancer – that I’ve come to accept. And I can accept Bowie as a sex symbol, too. But seeing them both naked in the same movie is just confounding. I suppose that’s Roeg’s point, making Bowie that much more alien by casting him with Torn. Also somewhat confounding is Candy Clark (of Q: The Winged Serpent) as Bowie’s earth girl. She’s a housekeeper at a bad hotel who becomes Bowie’s main source of human comfort – not the brightest bulb but maybe he decides that makes her less of a threat.

Good variety of music – only one Bowie song. The old-age makeup is markedly better than Julie Christie’s in The Go-Between. Hard to imagine how this got released without copious explanatory voiceover added. For instance, shots of Bowie’s home planet/family seem to be subjective, their present situation as Bowie imagines/hopes/fears, but of course this is never discussed. Not that I’m complaining – I like it the way it is, full of Roegian trickery. Bowie gives a blankly contemplative look almost all time, detached, Bowie-like, in other words. Why is Buck Henry thrown through a window at the end, and Bowie imprisoned in a mansionous hotel suite by badmen who don’t seem to know what they want from him? Something to do with Bernie Casey, I think.

One program Bowie watches on his array of TVs is lions fucking, which I found funny since the night before I’d watched The Lion King. Remade for 1980’s television with Wil Wheaton and Beverly D’Angelo. Bowie failed to grab an oscar nomination for playing his thin white alien self, but picked up a golden scroll from the sci-fi academy.

G. Fuller:

As critic Tom Milne has suggested, [Bowie’s] defenselessness is central to the exchanging of identities and the shifting of power dynamics between the characters in The Man Who Fell to Earth. This also occurs in Performance, Walkabout, Don’t Look Now, Bad Timing, and Track 29, the other films on which Roeg’s reputation as an auteur is based. As Newton becomes progressively more human, he becomes susceptible to the same vices that taint his intimates: the aggrandizement of power and wealth (Farnsworth), alcoholism and emotional dependency (Mary-Lou), abusive sexual behavior (Bryce). They, in turn, in Milne’s words, “rediscover something of that vulnerability,” shedding their protective carapaces even as they variously let Newton down, because, as humans, that is what they are fated to do.

A theatrical, dialogue-heavy movie with occasional bursts of appalling 1980’s music. Four iconic celebrities meet up in a hotel room (I don’t think all four are ever in the room at once, though). A Cherokee elevator man (Will Sampson, memorable as the Native spiritualist in Poltergeist II) provides a guilty American grounding to it all.

The four leads are playing the popular image of their characters, not aiming for a rounded, realistic portrayal. Hence, Einstein (Michael Emil, mostly in movies by his brother Henry Jaglom) is brilliant but down-to-earth and funny, able to explain his work in everyday terms – Marilyn Monroe (Theresa Russell, who married Nic Roeg the following year, star of his Bad Timing and Eureka) is flirty, never stops using her breathy screen voice, intelligent and somewhat tortured – Joe McCarthy (Tony Curtis) is relentlessly trying to get everyone to admit they’re a communist – and Joe DiMaggio (Gary Busey) is hot-headed and jealous (even of Einstein).

I didn’t find the play interesting at all – maybe I’m too young for it. The idea seems like a good one, but the only parts I enjoyed were the bits of Roegian collage – some visual explosions at the end, an insert shot which goes back in time, each character’s childhood flashback. I did also enjoy Marilyn’s explanation of the theory of relativity using balloons, flashlights and toy trains. Afterwards, the balloons anchor each shot, giving me something fun to watch instead of the actors.

Also worth mentioning: the movie ends with Albert envisioning Marilyn being killed in a nuclear blast. Kind of intense after all the dialogue scenes that precede.

J. Rosenbaum:

The film is less interested in literal history than in the various fantasies that these figures stimulate in our minds, and Roeg’s scattershot technique mixes the various elements into a very volatile cocktail — sexy, outrageous, and compulsively watchable. It’s a very English view of pop Americana, but an endearing one.

The trouble with Blu-Ray: in the full-size version you can plainly read that the wall calendar in this shot says June 1954…

But in the insert shot, it’s been changed:

In fact, it’s such an obvious mistake that maybe it was done on purpose. The close-up is shot from the perspective of DiMaggio, a man who lives so firmly in the past that he can’t even register the current date – his eyes are still processing what they saw three months ago.

Musco (1997, Michael Smith & Joshua White)
A fake 1984 infomercial for a music-oriented lighting equipment company. I don’t get it. It was part of an art installation, and I don’t get those in general, maybe because I don’t live in New York.

Flash Back (1985, Pascal Aubier)
Two-minute short – soldier is killed in combat, life flashes before his eyes represented by photos going back in time until to the earliest baby picture. Guess Pascal had to find an actor with lots of family photos for this.

The Apparition (1985, Pascal Aubier)
A guy’s bathroom light makes the Virgin Mary appear in a church across town. Aubier ought to be at least as popular as Don Hertzfeldt.

Un ballo in maschera (1987, Nicolas Roeg)
Things I like:
1. That the king is played by a woman (Theresa Russell) with a mustache
2. That the action takes place in an ellipsis (“…but”) between the opening and closing text (“King Zog Shot Back!”)

Nice piece, set to music by Giuseppe Verdi. First segment of the anthology film Aria, which I must watch the rest of when I’m not so tired (next segment put me to sleep in a couple minutes).

Universal Hotel (1986, Peter Thompson)
“1980, I have a strange dream. Between the fortress and the cathedral is the universal hotel.” Slow, calm analysis of photos and reports about a nazi experiment where prisoners were frozen then revival was attempted using boiling water, microwaves and “animal heat.” “I make statements about the photographs which cannot be proven. I speak with uncertainty.” Increasingly intense, with narrated dreams illustrated with photography tricks, a murder-mystery without an ending. Last line: “they come while I’m asleep.” Scary, and I would not have watched this right now had I known nazis were involved, but now I’m glad I did.

Universal Citizen (1987, Peter Thompson)
Now in Guatemala, Peter talks with a concentration camp survivor who told himself he would move to the tropics if he survived. He did, so he does, laying in a hammock, floating in the warm water, working on the sun roof of his house, listening to Armenian records and refusing to be filmed. Mayan ruins. This time the dream/nightmare scenes lack narration. Ends with a joke (and a shot from the beginning of the other film). Oh wait, no it ends with depression after the credits. I preferred the joke.

Bunker of the Last Gunshots (1981, Jeunet et Caro)
There’s an insurrection inside the bunker. A timer count backwards, people have gas masks and eyegear and prosthetic limbs, there are shootings, eletroshock, cryogenics, there is complicated machinery, tubes and wires and hidden cameras. Possibly they are Germans, it is possibly post-apocalyptic, and the soldiers possibly go crazy and kill each other. I am not entirely sure of the politics, but it’s a neat little flick, definitely full of the clutter style of their later features.

Opening Night of Close-Up (1996, Nanni Moretti)
That’s just what it’s about. The nervous cinephile (Moretti himself) who runs an Italian theater is opening Kiarostami’s Close-Up and wants everything to be just right.

World of Glory (1991, Roy Andersson)
“This is my brother. My little brother. I suppose he is my only true friend, so to speak. [both look away uncomfortably]” I just checked and yeah, Roy Andersson is the acclaimed deadpan comedic filmmaker who made Songs from the Second Floor and You, The Living. I’d believe it, and be almost excited to see those two after viewing this short, a guy grimly introducing us to his sad life, with he and others looking slowly into the camera as if we’re to blame for all this – except why did it start with a mini-reenactment of the holocaust? The whole rest of the movie I’m wondering that… he won’t let go of the “blood of christ” wine pot at mass and it’s supposed to be a funny scene but I’m thinking “the holocaust?!?”

Reverse Shot explains:

World of Glory locates a society — ostensibly the director’s native Sweden, but easy interchangeable with any modern European country — so paralyzed by ennui, anxiety, and desperation that its inhabitants are apparitions. The main character is a thin, pasty man who takes us on a guided tour of his life — his loveless marriage, his stultifying job, his pathetic day-to-day activities. It was not until the second time I saw the film that I realized that this character had been present in the first shot: dead center of the frame, turning away from the proceedings every so often to fix us with his gaze. His meek, self-effacing misery in the later scenes thus comes into sharper relief: a person who does not act to avert tragedy endures beneath its weight.


Je vous salue, Sarajevo (1993, Jean-Luc Godard)
“Culture is the rule, and art is the exception. … The rule is to want the death of the exception, so the rule for Cultural Europe is to organize the death of the art of living, which still flourishes.” This two-minute piece is a montage made from a single photograph, with voiceover. Directly to the point, I like it better than almost all of Histoire(s) du cinema.

Origins of the 21st Century (2000, Jean-Luc Godard)
A bummer of a film, montaging footage from news videos and feature films (The Shining, The Nutty Professor, Le Plaisir) over quiet music with the occasional commentary or block lettering, war and death, pain and happiness and a few plays-on-words.

If 6 was 9 (1995, Eija-Liisa Ahtila)
Sex, split-screens and supermarkets. More people looking into the camera confessionally, but all about sex this time, not too similar to Today.

Can’t figure what a full hour-long Ahtila film would be like, but she’s made two of them so I’ll find out eventually.

Zig-Zag (1980, Raul Ruiz)
Ruiz had adapted Kafka’s Penal Colony ten years earlier so surely he knows he’s making another Kafkaesque film here. A man named H. “realizes he is the victim of the worst type of nightmare: a didactic nightmare” when, late for an appointment, he finds himself part of a global board game at the mercy of pairs of dice. The game keeps changing scale, zooming out, so H. has to travel further distances more quickly – from walking to taxi to train to plane. Rosenbaum (who says it’s Borgesian not Kafkaesque) says it was made to promote a map exhibition in Paris, which to me just makes it more strange than if it was promoting nothing at all. “The history of cartography [is] the business of labyrinth destruction.”

Either H. or the mysterious gamer was played by Pascal Bonitzer, cowriter of some of Rivette’s best films. “We now live in the pure instantaneous future.”

Oops, wasn’t paying enough attention and will have to see this again. At least I determined that it’s worth seeing again. Julie Christie and George C Scott are a blast, and the editing is wonderfuly disturbing. Lot of relationship stuff in here, specifically about divorce. George is leaving his wife to feel free again, chasing Julie as his symbol of freedom. Julie is beaten almost to death at the end, I think by her husband, and ends up staying with him. So much for freedom. Ohhhhh, “cinematography by Nicolas Roeg” explains a lot.

Petulia 1

Petulia 2