Great Directors Made Little: Roeg Male

roeglittle

Thanks to the mighty Danny Carr for lending me Nicolas Roeg’s memoir The World is Ever Changing. I’m hard-pressed to decide which of these two images of the youthful filmmaker is more adorable. It’s a charm Roeg has carried with him throughout life: on first encounter he struck Richard Lester as “a very charismatic clapper boy.” The word on the set was, “Watch out, we’re all going to be working for this bastard one day.” The shots of Roeg as a young man make it very clear why he’s had such notable success with the ladies, who didn’t just disrobe for his camera.

One thing that emerges very strongly from the book, which is as non-linear and allusive as any Roeg movie, is that Roeg has retained a childlike sense of wonder and this informs his films. The phrase “childlike sense of wonder” has practically been trademarked by Spielberg, but I mean something slightly different by it. Any idiot can gaze in wonder at a hovering UFO, or at Tom Hanks’ strange puffy face, but filmmakers with a poetic sensibility can induce this wonder in us at the sight of whatever they choose to turn their cameras upon. Thus, Roeg was the perfect man to present to us, as he did in THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH, an alien’s first view of life on Earth.

The book isn’t perfect — it resembles what it is — an elderly filmmaker, fond of a martini, burbling cheerfully away without regard to whether you’re listening. At times Roeg repeats himself, and regrettably an account of how the coming of sound paralysed Hollywood’s camera movement appears twice — vexing because this is not the kind of thing we need Roeg to tell us. Roeg also prints part of a letter from Paul Theroux, mentioning several exciting adventures he hopes Roeg will include in the book. None of them are in there. It’s an odd thing to say about a work by this genius of montage — needs an editor.

At the end of the book, an eerie, funny and strange account of a possible past-life experience seems like the perfect mysterious coda, but then it morphs into a slightly fuzzy proposal for a TV show on the supernatural, which feels sad because if it’s appearing here, it’s presumably been rejected by everyone who could finance it, and the idea of a Roeg renaissance looks increasingly unlikely. A tragedy. He should go digital. If somebody would just send a Canon 5D and a brace of naked girls round to his flat, we could see some more masterpieces from the wizard of assault-course celluloid.

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The World is Ever Changing
The World is Ever Changing
The Man Who Fell To Earth (Special Edition) [Blu-ray]
The Man Who Fell To Earth

4 Responses to “Great Directors Made Little: Roeg Male”

  1. Quite interesting that the trailer uses so many images from Insignificance. Putting Performance to one side it’s my favorite Roeg.

  2. It’s rather delightful. A surprise, that Terry Johnson turned out to be a better-suited Roeg collaborator that Dennis Potter, but the results speak for themselves. I think the trailer uses the original video for Big Audio Dynamite’s MCsquared, which used those clips. It also sampled The Man Who Fell to Earth but evidently couldn’t clear the rights to the other biggies.

  3. I do so agree with you about the (ironic) need for an editor. Much as I love Roeg I couldn’t get to the end of this because of the repetition and baggy shapelessness of it all. And, worse, I bought the download version, which doesn’t even have the compensation of the illustrations.

  4. I think the optimal version must be the app, where you get film clips and you can hear it read out in Roeg’s sonorous tones and you can easily play it out of sequence so the edit doesn’t matter so much. Alas, I don’t have an i-thing.

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