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.
Terry McMahon is a filmmaker and can be found on Twitter @terrymcmahon69
Previously: Terry McMahon on Broadsheet