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Nicolas Roeg: a retrospect on the king of the outsiders during the 18th NH

16/05/18
The Man Who Fell to Earth, dir. Nicolas Roeg
Lost Lost Lost: cinema from the margins at the 18th New Horizons IFF Retrospectives: Pedro Costa and João César Monteiro

Nicolas Roeg – the main outsider of British cinematography, an artistic friend of Mick Jagger – is the focus of one of the retrospects during the 18th New Horizons International Film Festival.

During the event, 10 of his most important movies will be shown. This includes "The Man Who Fell to Earth" featuring a legendary performance by David Bowie.

Roeg, who will celebrate his 90th birthday in September, during almost his entire career has maintained to be somewhat of an outcast; he's a man, who fell to Earth, and can't seem to find common ground with the inhabitants of a planet that is far too mainstream. Many of his movies, before they became novelties and cult classics, for years have been stuck in warehouses of confused producers ("Performance" and "Eureka"), being tortured by movie engineers (including "The Man Who Fell to Earth"). Some were commercial disasters ("The Witches", "Bad Timing", "Eureka") and met with complete rejection. "A sick film made by sick people for sick people" - that was the summary of "Bad Timing" made by the movie's distributor - Rank Organisation - before they've removed their logo from the movie's credits.

"My journey was old fashioned - from making tea, to being an engineer, then a camera assistant and operator. However, I've never been old fashioned" - he said in his later years. That is why his work for years has been misunderstood for what it was: an original, passionate search for new stylistic approaches, including experimenting with genres. His plots were obsessively focused on the concept of time ("cinema is a gateway to the nature of time" he says). In the construction of his movies, Roeg tried to capture the phenomenon of time, rejecting the logic of traditional narration. He wanted the audience to experience past, present, and future in the same moment ("Insignificance"). He was also fascinated with how the memory works. The chaotic, fragmented nature of memories was reflected on the screen by a mosaic of seemingly random, clashing scenes. The logic behind them is made apparent only after the story comes to a close. "Rules are made to be broken", he often said.

Being an outsider, he constantly invaded what was considered the cinematography mainstream, pushing or disregarding the boundaries of genres. His delirious, erotic, delving in obsessions, chasing the invisible cinematography featuring the stars of the underground (Mick Jagger, David Bowie, Art Garfunkel), remains one of the most interesting testimonies of his times.

Fascinated with the theme of alienation, he catapulted his protagonists beyond what they considered normal. He made Vienna the scene of an exhausting, erotic battle between a pair of Americans ("Bad Timing"). He made a grieving British couple trudge through the damp streets of Venice ("Don't Look Now"). He inserted a British man filled with punk-rock energy into the reality of American suburbs ("Track 29"). He sent an alien from outer space to England ("The Man Who Fell to Earth"). He sent a pair of British children to the Australian outback, where they meet and Aboriginal youngster ("Walkabout"). He also hid a criminal in an estate owned by an androgynous, psychedelic mushroom loving rock star. The places he chooses for his works are never just that. They're landscapes resonating with emotion; spiritual wilds, dead ends of desire; places, where one's thoughts become covered by dust, like the streets of an American small town. "Nothing is as it seems" - that is the motto driving his work; he keeps searching for secret connections that turn coincidence into fate; a suburb becomes a showcase of a troubled mind; hallucinations turn into reality, while sex invites death.

During the New Horizons retrospect on this brilliant director and operator (who collaborated with such stars as François Truffaut, David Lean, and Roger Corman) we will present ten movies. Besides the cult classics of "Don't Look Now", "Walkabout", and "Bad Timing", it will be an opportunity to see his less famous pieces ("Eureka", "The Witches", "Insignificance"). The pretext to showcase Nicolas Roeg's work is his 90th birthday. But the actual reason is to help him reclaim his rightful place in the cinema history as a man who influenced several generations of movie directors. If it wasn't for "Bad Timing" or "Insignificance", we would not have the movies made by today's idols, such as Christopher Nolan, Steven Soderbergh, Gaspar Noé, Ridley Scott or Danny Boyle. Each of them could repeat, what their master claimed: "A film is a magical and mysterious combination of reality, art, science, and the supernatural". It is the gateway to the nature of time. And behind those doors no rules apply.

Małgorzata Sadowska

The retrospect on the works of Nicolas Roeg has been created in partnership with the British Council.


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