The Info List - Nicolas Roeg

Nicolas Jack Roeg CBE BSC (/ˈrɡ/; born 15 August 1928) is an English film director and former cinematographer. He is best known for directing the films Performance, Walkabout, Don't Look Now, The Man Who Fell to Earth, Bad Timing and The Witches.

Making his directorial debut 23 years after his entry into the film business, Roeg quickly became known for an idiosyncratic visual and narrative style, characterised by the use of disjointed and disorientating editing.[1] For this reason, he is considered a highly influential filmmaker, with directors such as Steven Soderbergh, Christopher Nolan and Danny Boyle citing him as such.

In 1999, the British Film Institute acknowledged Roeg's importance in the British film industry by naming Don't Look Now and Performance the 8th and 48th greatest British films of all time respectively in its Top 100 British films poll.

Early life

Roeg was born in London, to Mabel Gertrude (née Silk) and Jack Nicolas Roeg.[2]



In 1947, after completing National Service, Roeg entered the film business as a tea boy moving up to clapper-loader, the bottom rung of the camera department, at Marylebone Studios in London.[3] For a time, he worked as a camera operator on a number of film productions, including Tarzan's Greatest Adventure and The Trials of Oscar Wilde.

Roeg was a second-unit cinematographer on David Lean's Lawrence of Arabia (1962) and this led to Lean's hiring Roeg as cinematographer on his follow-up Doctor Zhivago; however, Roeg's creative vision clashed with that of Lean and eventually he was fired from the production and replaced with Freddie Young who received sole credit for cinematography when the film was released in 1965.[4] He was credited as cinematographer on Roger Corman's The Masque of the Red Death and François Truffaut's Fahrenheit 451, as well as John Schlesinger's Far from the Madding Crowd and Richard Lester's Petulia; the latter is the last film on which Roeg was solely credited for cinematography and also shares many characteristics and similarities with Roeg's work as a director.[5]


In the late 1960s, Roeg moved into directing with Performance alongside Donald Cammell. The film centres around an aspiring London gangster (James Fox) who moves in with a reclusive rock star (Mick Jagger) to evade his bosses. The film featured cinematography by Roeg and a screenplay by Cammell, the latter of whom favoured Marlon Brando for the James Fox role.[6] The film was completed in 1968 but withheld from release by its distributor Warner Bros. who, according to producer Sanford Lieberson, "didn't think it was releasable".[7] The film was eventually released with an X-rating in 1970 and, despite its initial poor reception, has come to be held in high esteem by critics due to its cult following.

Roeg followed up with Walkabout, which tells the story of an English teenage girl and her much younger brother who are abandoned in the Australian Outback by their father and forced to fend for themselves, with the help of an Aboriginal boy on his walkabout. Roeg cast Jenny Agutter in the role of the girl, his own son Luc as the boy and David Gulpilil as the Aboriginal boy. In contrast to Performance, it was widely praised by critics although still performed badly at the box-office.

His next film, Don't Look Now, is based on Daphne du Maurier's short story of the same name and starred Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland as a married couple in Venice mourning the death by drowning of their daughter. It attracted scrutiny early on due to a sex scene between Sutherland and Christie, which was unusually graphic for the time. Roeg's decision to intercut the sexual intercourse with shots of the couple dressing afterwards was reportedly due to the need to assuage the fears of the censors, and there were rumours at the time of its release that the sex was unsimulated.[8] The film received an R-rating in the US and an X-rating in the UK; it was widely praised by critics and is today considered one of the most important and influential horror films ever made.

Similarly to Performance, Roeg cast musicians in leading roles for his next two films, The Man Who Fell to Earth and Bad Timing. The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976), stars David Bowie as a humanoid alien who comes to Earth to collect water for his planet, which is suffering from a drought. The film divided critics and was truncated upon its US release.[9] Despite this, it was entered into the Berlin International Film Festival where Roeg was nominated for the Golden Bear. It is today considered an important science fiction film and is one of Roeg's most celebrated films. Bad Timing was released in 1980 and stars Art Garfunkel as an American psychiatrist living in Vienna who develops a love affair with a fellow expatriate (played by Theresa Russell, to whom Roeg was later married), which culminates in the latter being rushed to hospital due to an incident the nature of which is revealed over the course of the film. It was initially disliked by critics, as well as by its distributor, the Rank Organisation, who allegedly described it as "a sick film made by sick people for sick people."[10] Rank requested that their logo be taken off the finished film.

Bad Timing marked the beginning of a three-film partnership with British producer Jeremy Thomas. The second of these films, Eureka (1983), is loosely based on the true story of Sir Harry Oakes and stars Gene Hackman as a gold prospector who discovers an abundance of liquid gold underneath the ground in the 1920s; it received a largely limited release, both theatrically and on home video. It was followed up with Insignificance, which imagines a meeting between Marilyn Monroe, Albert Einstein, Monroe's husband Joe DiMaggio, and Senator Joseph McCarthy. Insignificance was screened in competition at the Cannes Film Festival, where Roeg was nominated for the Palme d'Or.

His next two films, Castaway and Track 29, are considered minor entries in his ouevre.[11] Roeg was then selected to direct an adaptation of Roald Dahl's children's novel The Witches by Jim Henson, who had procured the film rights to the book in 1983.[12] This would prove to be his last major studio film and proved a great success with critics, although it was a box-office failure. Roeg has made only three theatrical films since The Witches: Cold Heaven (1992), Two Deaths (1995) and Puffball (2007). As well as this, he has done a small amount of work for television, including adaptations of Tennessee Williams' Sweet Bird of Youth, starring Elizabeth Taylor, and Heart of Darkness, starring Tim Roth and John Malkovich.

Style and influence

Roeg's films are known for having scenes and images from the plot presented in a disarranged fashion, out of chronological and causal order, requiring the viewer to do the work of mentally rearranging them to comprehend the storyline. They seem, "to shatter reality into a thousand pieces" and are "unpredictable, fascinating, cryptic and liable to leave you wondering what the hell just happened. ..."[13] This is also the strategy of Richard Lester's 1968 film Petulia, which was Roeg's last film as a cinematographer only. A characteristic of Roeg's films is that they are edited in disjunctive and semi-coherent ways that make full sense only in the film's final moments, when a crucial piece of information surfaces; they are "mosaic-like montages [filled with] elliptical details which become very important later."[14]

These techniques, and Roeg's foreboding sense of atmosphere, influenced later filmmakers such as Steven Soderbergh,[15] Tony Scott,[16] Ridley Scott, François Ozon and Danny Boyle.[17] In addition to this, director Christopher Nolan has said that his film Memento would have been "pretty unthinkable" without Roeg and cites the finale of Insignificance as an influence on his own Inception.[18] In addition to this, Steven Soderbergh's Out of Sight features a love scene that is visibly influenced by that in Don't Look Now.

A further theme that can be seen to be running through Roeg's filmography is characters who are out of their natural setting. Examples of this include the schoolchildren in the Outback in Walkabout, the Englishmen and women in Venice in Don't Look Now, the alien on Earth in The Man Who Fell to Earth, and the Americans in Vienna in Bad Timing.

Roeg's influence on cinema is not limited to deconstructing narrative. The "Memo From Turner" sequence in Performance predates many techniques later used in music videos. The "quadrant" sequence in Bad Timing, in which the thoughts of Theresa Russell and Art Garfunkel are heard before words are spoken, set to Keith Jarrett's piano music from the Köln Concert, stretched the boundaries of what could be done with film.[19]

Legacy and honours

His work was documented at the Riverside Studios, London from 12–14 September 2008, showcasing nine of his films. He introduced the retrospective along with Miranda Richardson, who starred in Puffball. The retrospective included Bad Timing, Puffball, Far from the Madding Crowd, The Man Who Fell to Earth, The Witches, Eureka, Don't Look Now and Insignificance. The London Film Academy organised this event for Roeg in honour of his patronage of the school.

Roeg was awarded with a BFI Fellowship in 1994 and was made a Commander of the British Empire in 2011.[20][21]

Personal life

Roeg was married to Susan Stephen from 1957–77. They had four children, Waldo, Nico, Sholto and the producer Luc Roeg, who also stars in Roeg's first film, Walkabout, as Lucien John. Roeg married Theresa Russell in 1982 and they had two children, Max (an actor) and Statten Roeg. Following their divorce, Roeg married Harriet Harper in 2004.[citation needed]


Films as director




Selected films as cinematographer


  1. ^ "Nicolas Roeg - Biography, Facts, Films and Marriage to Theresa Russell". Encyclopaedia Britannica. Retrieved 17 December 2017. 
  2. ^ Profile, filmreference.com; accessed 12 July 2014.
  3. ^ "Screenonline". British Film Institute (BFI). BFI. 
  4. ^ "Nicholas Roeg". The Guardian. Retrieved 17 December 2017. 
  5. ^ http://www.screeningthepast.com/2012/12/the-art-of-falling-apart-petulia-and-the-fate-of-richard-lester/
  6. ^ "James Fox and Sandy Lieberson: how we made Performance". The Guardian. Retrieved 17 December 2017. 
  7. ^ "James Fox and Sandy Lieberson: how we made Performance". The Guardian. Retrieved 17 December 2017. 
  8. ^ "Nicolas Roeg on Don't Look Now". Film 4. Archived from the original on 10 August 2011. Retrieved 17 December 2017. 
  9. ^ "The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976)". The Criterion Collection. Retrieved 17 December 2017. 
  10. ^ "Nicolas Roeg's Bad Timing". The Guardian=accessdate=17 December 2017. 
  11. ^ "Nicolas Roeg - Great Director profile". Senses of Cinema. Retrieved 17 December 2017. 
  12. ^ "Summer of '90: The Witches - The House Next Door". Slant Magazine. Retrieved 17 December 2017. 
  13. ^ Steve Rose. "'You don't know me.'", guardian.co.uk, 12 July 2008; accessed 12 July 2014.
  14. ^ Jason Wood. "His Brilliant Career", The Guardian, 3 June 2005; accessed 10 July 2010.
  15. ^ Wood, ibid.
  16. ^ Ariel Leve. "Interview with Tony Scott" Archived 14 March 2010 at the Wayback Machine., The Sunday Times Magazine. August 2005; accessed 12 July 2010.
  17. ^ Adams, Tim "Danny Boyle: 'As soon as you think you can do whatever you want... then you're sunk'" The Guardian, 5 December 2010.
  18. ^ "Nicolas Roeg: 'I don't want to be ahead of my time'". The Guardian. Retrieved 17 December 2017. 
  19. ^ Roeg profile, sensesofcinema.com; accessed 12 July 2014.
  20. ^ "BFI Fellows". British Film Institute. Retrieved 17 December 2017. 
  21. ^ "THE NEW YEAR HONOURS: Musicals top the bill". The Independent. Retrieved 17 December 2017. 


  • Nicolas Roeg, Neil Feineman, Boston: Twayne, 1978
  • The Films of Nicolas Roeg: Myth and Mind, John Izod, Basingstoke, Macmillan, 1992
  • Fragile Geometry: The Films, Philosophy and Misadventures of Nicolas Roeg, Joseph Lanza, New York: Paj Publications, 1989.
  • The Films of Nicolas Roeg, Neil Sinyard, London: Letts, 1991

External links