Nicolas Roeg, the man behind the camera of genre masterpieces like Don’t Look Now, has died at aged 90.
By the time he sat down in the director’s chair for the atmospheric film starring Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie as a couple trying to move beyond the loss of their daughter on a trip to Venice, Roeg had already established himself as an editor and cinematographer. Don’t Look Now‘s violent and unexpected climax is still one of the most stunning in cinematic history.
Three years later, Roeg once again found himself in the director’s chair on an unusual project. The Man Who Fell to Earth starred David Bowie as an alien who comes to Earth in an attempt to save his own dying planet.
The film, which was Bowie’s first starring role, received a lukewarm response by critics but, like many of Roeg’s films, it gained its own cult following in the decades that followed its release.
Roeg continued directing in the years that followed across genres with films like Castaway starring Oliver Reed and Track 29 with Gary Oldman, but it was 1990’s The Witches that would become his most famous and popular film.
Starring Anjelica Huston, The Witches was based on the Roald Dahl book about a plot by the world’s most powerful witches to be rid of children once and for all. Huston’s performance was both stunning and terrifying as the Grand High Witch in the film that was the last that Jim Henson oversaw himself before his death.
The Witches did not come without its controversies, however. Roald Dahl, upon seeing the film, called it appalling and too vulgar and threatened legal action to have his name and title removed from the film. In a strange twist, he also said that the film’s ending was too positive and unlike the book he had written.
He later, grudgingly, dropped his threat.
These kind of reactions had followed Roeg throughout his career. Don’t Look Now was criticized for its lengthy, graphic sex scenes. The Man Who Fell to Earth was called too surreal and confounding.
And yet, these were the marks that ultimately made his work stand out. He delighted in playing with time and space in his films in ways that kept the audience on their toes. Those that “got it” became ardent fans.
Nicolas Roeg perhaps explained it best, however, and it seems perfect and right to end with the director’s own words:
“I’ve been told my movies are difficult to market. It isn’t a horror film, it isn’t a thriller. Yes, there’s a love story in it but it could hardly be called a romance,” Roeg told The Guardian in 2007. “People love things in boxes, classified a genre. But it’s just life. Life and birth and sex and love — they don’t necessarily all go together.”