Monday, 29 June 2015

It's About Nicolas Roeg

Just watched BBC's Nicolas Roeg documentary It's About Time, and it's very good, if just a little too short at 60mins. I won't reveal too much for anyone who has yet to see it, but the documentary provides a fine analysis of Roeg's films and their preoccupations, mostly by Roeg's collaborators and admirers, although the best stuff comes from the director himself as he ponders on the strange, hidden connections in life (relating a wonderful anecdote of meeting Stephen Hawking on a flight to Los Angeles) and I enjoyed Roeg reading W.H. Auden ("At Last the Secret is Out") and delighting in his poetry's cinematic quality - "I think somehow, it's like a film plot...there's a dozen there. It's terrific"...

Watching documentary I was interested in something director Bernard Rose mentioned - that Roeg was fired as DP off Doctor Zhivago which I had forgotten about, so I went to Kevin Brownlow's 1996 biography of David Lean for more info... Roeg was Lean's second choice for the film after Freddie Young, but by the time Lean was ready to go on Zhivago, Young was booked to shoot the historical epic Khartoum, so Roeg was drafted. Roeg in an interview for the book recalls that from the outset the Zhivago set was tense. Roeg had to work with much of Freddie Young's crew and he felt he was something of a "Judas" for stepping in for Young. As the shoot progressed, Lean and Roeg clashed on the cameraman's methods, Roeg's remembers lighting one particular shot of Omar Sharif: "Zhivago was sitting huddled with his cap on and I lit him so he looked like a skull, so that his eyes were black, with the tiniest pinprick in his black eyes. David hated it. "You've lost his beautiful eyes" he said. I realized I was on the wrong planet". Lean later commented: "It was a terrible thing asking him to go. But he behaved impeccably and we're good friends now, we meet and talk and there are no hard feelings that I'm aware of". Roeg went on to shoot Far From the Madding Crowd and Freddie Young, released from Khartoum when filming was delayed by seven months joined David Lean in Spain to photograph Doctor Zhivago.

One last musing... The music used to open the documentary, The Subterraneans by David Bowie made me smile as this track is said to have contained some DNA of Bowie's abandoned soundtrack for The Man Who Fell To Earth, specifically the reverse bass motif heard in the song. Surely not a coincidence that it appears in the Roeg documentary ?

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