Film director Nicolas Roeg (1928-2018)

There’s a generation out there that probably don’t know who Nicolas Roeg is. Yet, to some of us, this beautiful bastard is as important as Stravinsky, Picasso or Joyce.

Among the many movies he made, some are good, some are stone-cold classics, and some are one-of-a-kind masterpieces.

There are few things more tiresome than some fool making the death of an icon somehow be about them but…a financier of one of my little films, (there are only two, for Christ’s sake), knew Roeg and passed that film onto him.

The financier had no idea if Roeg would even watch it. But Roeg did. Three times, he said. And Roeg imparted a scene-by-scene breakdown detailing the most profoundly personal reactions and insights.

I nervously asked the financier if Roeg might be willing to give a short, single-line quote for the poster. The financier had no idea how Roeg would respond. No idea if he had stepped over the line. No idea if I had gotten him into a world of shit.

Roeg responded immediately and this is the single line he sent: “A stunning and shattering piece of work with a profound sense of truth.”

It was like a student monk doubting his faith receiving a telegram from God. Or a piece of music from Stravinsky. Or a sketch from Picasso. Or the address of the best whorehouse in the Monto from Joyce.

We used to repeatedly watch his films. When nothing else compares, you often find yourself returning to your first love. It’s why we listen to an album for decades. Or study a painting for centuries. Or build a culture around a reinventor of language. Just like Stravinsky, Picasso and Joyce, every time you return to a Nicolas Roeg film, some new and astonishing human truth is revealed to you. Or about you.

There’s no point in listing his movies. The people who know Roeg already know his legacy. As for the people who don’t know him, I envy you. You are virgins in one of the greatest orgies in cinema.

His last breakout movie was ‘Witches (1990) Some producer had the insane idea of offering Roeg a movie based on Roald Dahl’s book written for kids. That’s like offering a hotel management position to Norman Bates. It became one of the scariest kids movies ever made and one of the most brilliant.

There was nothing Roeg couldn’t do. Except be ordinary.

RIP #NicolasRoeg

Terry McMahon is a filmmaker and can be found on Twitter @terrymcmahon69

Previously: Terry McMahon on Broadsheet

Nicolas Roeg Obituary (The Guardian)

Pic: Getty

28 thoughts on “Going Roeg

  1. Holden MaGroin

    Cool story.

    I remember seeing Witches in the cinema and being annoyed they changed the ending from the book.

    Maybe Film 4 will have a Roeg Retrospective or something over Christmas. That would be cool.

    1. Martco

      I think with anything Roald Dahl you’re better off sticking to the books, used to have a set of cd’s in the car of Dahl’s books narrated by Dahl himself which were particularly good. my favourite of the lot is The Enormous Crocodile. nutter.

  2. Ollie Cromwell

    So he goes to his grave never revealing to anyone whether Donald Sutherland was tupping Julie Christie for real in that scene.

  3. Thisisthis

    I’m a dyed ( died ) in the wool horror fiend. But I could never get on board with the love for Don’t Look Now.
    It’s a mediocre melodrama bookended with infamous scenes. The rest in the middle is pure flab.
    Of course that’s just my opinion. Many people I respect think it’s a masterpiece.

        1. Ollie Cromwell

          This is you picking the ball out of the back of the net.
          It something you share with Ireland’s goalkeeper on a regular basis.

    1. rotide

      Well I wouldn’t really care except that he made a massive deal about blaming all of us anonymous trolls for not understanding his genius and promising to deny us any more of that genius.

      But he couldn’t resist the auld humblebragging for very long

      1. millie st murderlark

        Also he’s a twit with a massive ego who apparently doesn’t know how to take criticism.

        If, instead of spiraling off into a self indulgent tantrum (on more than one occasion), he’d addressed the criticism like a reasonable adult, or (heaven forbid) actually take some of it on board, his reception here might well have gone very differently.

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