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Don't Look Now (1973)
Director: Nicolas Roeg

The Man Who Fell To Earth (1976)
Director: Nicolas Roeg

reviews by Gary Couzens

When their daughter dies in a drowning accident, John Baxter (Donald Sutherland) and his wife Laura (Julie Christie) take a holiday in out-of-season Venice, where John works on restoring a church. Laura meets two sisters (Hilary Mason and Clelia Matania), one of whom is blind and a psychic. The woman says that she is in touch with the Baxters' drowned child. Laura is willing to believe, but John dismisses their claims, but soon uncanny things begin to happen, and he repeatedly sees a small figure in red...

Don't Look Now, based on a short story by Daphne du Maurier, was Nicolas Roeg's third feature as director. There was an important change behind the scenes, in that Roeg no longer acted as his own cinematographer as he had on Performance and Walkabout, but turned photography duties over into the very capable hands of Anthony Richmond. This had an effect on his shooting style, which became more classical and less reliant on camera trickery. However, his editing style is anti-classical, finding meaning by association by cross-cutting across time as well as space, an approach he would develop further.

The result is one of Roeg's very best films, building gradually to a devastating climax. There's an argument that supernatural horror films work best in black and white: that may be so, but this is a film that proves that rule. Roeg and Richmond's use of colour, particularly red, is vital to the film's effect. However, at heart Don't Look Now is a very sad film. John is himself psychic, but he can't or won't accept the fact, and a terrible fate awaits him. The scene where John and Laura make love, intercut with shots of them dressing to go to work, is not just a sex scene (though it tested censorship boundaries in its day) but one of the finest love scenes in modern cinema. Its influence can be felt to this day, for example the scene between George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez in Out of Sight. It's also one of the relatively few sex scenes between a married couple.

DVD Region 2, widescreen ratio 1.85:1, Dolby digital 2.0 mono soundtrack. Extras: Don't Look Now - Looking Back featurette (25 minutes - full of spoilers, so beware), theatrical trailer, DVD-ROM content features downloadable pages from the original theatrical campaign brochure.

Roeg's next film, The Man Who Fell to Earth, based on a novel by Walter Tevis, is the story of Thomas Jerome Newton (David Bowie), an alien who lands on Earth. For at least half of the film we don't know the purpose of his visit, as he amasses a vast fortune - it's to bring water back to his dying homeworld. However, drink, sex, the media and business rivals undermine him. The film has a timeless feel: the only indication we have of years passing is the ageing of all the human characters. The wilful withholding of information makes the film a little hard to follow on a first viewing, though there's plenty to offer the viewer.

However, in contrast to Don't Look Now's seamlessness, this film seems a little contrived in places. Roeg and Richmond, filming in scope for the first time (of two, the other being their next film, Bad Timing) fill the screen with some striking imagery and imaginative use of the medium. Take the scene where Nathan Bryce (Rip Torn) is in bed with one of his students: the conversation continues uninterrupted but the woman in bed with him changes from shot to shot. This tells us more about Bryce than yards of expository dialogue could do. Newton is still Bowie's best screen role: he's such perfect casting that it's a surprise to learn that Roeg originally thought of Michael Crichton for the role. (This was presumably for Crichton's unusual height - six feet, nine inches - rather than his unknown acting ability.)

Candy Clark gives one of her finest performances, and her sex scene with Bowie later on, to the accompaniment of John Phillip's 'Hello Mary Lou', is probably number 2 in the ranks of great Roeg sex scenes. Real-life Apollo astronaut James Lovell is credited for a brief appearance as himself; there are uncredited appearances from Terry Southern and exploitation-movie queen Claudia Jennings.

DVD Region 2, widescreen ratio 2.35:1, remixed Dolby digital 5.1 soundtrack. Extras: Watching The Alien featurette (25 minutes), theatrical trailer, DVD-ROM featuring downloadable pages from the original theatrical campaign brochure.

Don't Look Now
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The Man Who Fell To Earth

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