hoodedjustice: (Default)
2015-08-11 12:00 pm

Criterion Blu-ray Review: Don't Look Now (Nicolas Roeg, 1973)

[Note: This piece was first published by One Perfect Shot in 2015.]

Renowned British cameraman-turned-director Nicolas Roeg’s relationship with the Criterion Collection has been longstanding and fruitful for both parties. Not only did the company release two of his seminal films –- 1971’s Walkabout and 1976’s The Man Who Fell To Earth –- on laserdisc, but Walkabout was one of the very first DVDs Criterion put out in 1998, getting spine number 10. Seven years later, it was joined on DVD by The Man Who Fell To Earth and 1980’s Bad Timing, a film that would have likely languished in limbo without their intervention. Blu-ray upgrades for The Man Who Fell To Earth and Walkabout followed, with the addition of 1985’s Insignificance in 2011. That left two gaps in Roeg’s filmography, one of which Criterion filled this year by bringing back into print his 1973 masterpiece Don't Look Now, previously only available in the States on a bare-bones DVD from Paramount. (If the original director’s cut of 1983’s Eureka could be reconstructed, that would finish the job, but no one should hold their breath waiting for that to happen.)

Based on a story by Daphne Du Maurier (Jamaica Inn, Rebecca, The Birds), Don't Look Now takes full advantage of the fractured editing style that had been a hallmark of Roeg’s features starting with 1970’s Performance, co-directed with Donald Cammell. In spite of its heavy use of flash-forwards, flashbacks, and seemingly unconnected inserts, though, Don't Look Now is Roeg at his most accessible. What grounds it are the performances of Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland as Laura and John Baxter, a married couple reeling from the aftershocks of the death of their daughter Christine (seen in gut-wrenching detail in the film’s bravura opening sequence) while he’s in Venice overseeing the restoration of one of its many crumbling churches. While John buries himself in his work (indeed, he was researching the very job he’s on the day Christine drowned), Laura finds comfort in the words of Heather (Hilary Mason), a blind psychic passing through Venice with her sister Wendy (Clelia Matania) that they meet by chance –- or is there such a thing in Roeg’s universe?

Scattered throughout the film, which is chock full of mirrors, reflections, visual rhymes, and recurring images of water and breaking glass, are glimpses of a figure in a red raincoat similar to the one Christine was wearing the day she drowned. Since the color scheme -– dutifully captured by cinematographer Anthony Richmond -– is otherwise severely muted, these flashes of red (usually accompanied by a synthesizer flourish from first-time composer Pino Donaggio) never fail to catch the eye, putting the viewer on the alert even if John (a born skeptic) is unaware of the danger he’s putting himself in by ignoring Heather’s warning and staying in Venice, which has been experiencing a plague of unsolved murders. This is exacerbated when the Baxters’ son has an accident at boarding school and Laura flies to England without John, yet is seen by him in the company of the two sisters later that same day. In search of answers, John turns to the police, who are as helpful as they generally are in the giallo films Don't Look Now shares some of its DNA with, leaving him vulnerable to the forces he’s been denying all along –- including his own, underdeveloped second sight.

Above and beyond everything else –- including simultaneously being a chilling horror film and a startlingly effective portrayal of the long-term effects of grief and loss –- Don't Look Now’s main claim to fame is the sequence where Roeg and editor Graeme Clifford intercut John and Laura making love with the two of them getting dressed afterward, silently contemplating the connection they’ve just made. As Steven Soderbergh notes on one of the Blu-ray’s bonus features, it’s an idea he lifted wholesale for a similar scene in his film Out Of Sight, just as many other filmmakers have nicked things from Roeg’s films over the years. What allows Don't Look Now to hold up today is that even 42 years on, it still feels as bold and original as it ever did.

Special Features:

In lieu of the commentaries that graced Walkabout and The Man Who Fell To Earth, Don't Look Now is stocked with a wide range of interviews and video pieces. These include a featurette produced for Blue Underground in 2002 where Roeg, Richmond, and Clifford talk about the development of the film, and an interview from 2006 with Donaggio, who turned to film composing full-time after his melancholy score found its way to Brian De Palma while he was looking for a replacement for the late Bernard Herrmann on Carrie. Exclusive to Criterion’s package are a new piece featuring interviews with Richmond, screenwriter Allan Scott, and Christie and Sutherland, both of whom look back fondly on the experience of making the film, a post-screening Q&A with Roeg from 2003, and the aforementioned piece in which Soderbergh and Danny Boyle talk about his influence on them. The highlight, however, is the lively conversation between Clifford and film historian Bobbie O’Steen, which is illustrated by copious clips from the film. “Nick likes brave choices,” Clifford says. “He likes things to be unusual.” Happily, there was a window of about a decade where the things he found unusual had enough of an audience that he could keep looking for them.