Monday, March 7, 2011

#303: Bad Timing

(Nicholas Roeg, 1980)

Nicholas Roeg is surely one of the more inventive and experimentally stylistic directors in the collection, but while that can often mean work that becomes dated or out of step with modern rhythms, his films still feel just as provocative as ever. Walkabout, one of the first ten films in the collection, is easily described as an assault, a deeply conflicted exploration of the relationship between man and society, while Don't Look Now (which is not in the collection) is a disturbingly offbeat take on the thriller genre. Bad Timing, Roeg's collaboration with folk singer and psycho-sexual-thriller regular Art Garfunkel, is similarly affecting, and depicts its core relationship as a power struggle that destroys both participants.

All three of these films use jump cut editing and various cinematic flourishes to complement their narratives that feel alternately invigorating and frustratingly antiquated. But Bad Timing is the most successful because its temporal shifts, odd musical cues, and inventive freeze frames and rack focusing seem so interwoven with the thematic elements of the film. Garfunkel plays a psychiatrist in Cold War Vienna, in love with a mysterious woman he meets at a party. The film toggles back and forth between the present, where the woman, Milena, has been rushed to a hospital after attempting to overdose on pills and Garfunkel is being interrogated by a detective played by Harvey Keitel, and flashbacks of their relationship, which climaxes with a deeply disturbing final embrace towards the end of the film.

The basic concept of Bad Timing is rather routine: Milena, you see, is a wild flower, and no man can control her. But Garfunkel must have her all to himself, even if it means destroying her. There are unique elements of the story, but this core dynamic is long past its expiration date. What saves the film is its consistent and hypnotic tone, which Roeg is rather masterfully able to sustain over the course of two hours. Despite a lack of true parallels, Run, Lola, Run came to mind often, not only because that film kept its breakneck stylistic pace though an admittedly easier 80 minutes, but because both films have evaded through sheer technical skill hhat seemed like their respective dated fates, and instead come across as refreshingly bold to this day.

Roeg manages to stay relevant because his films, unlike a movie like, say, Easy Rider, are not tied to any temporal counter culture, but are instead inherently contradictory to the mainstream identity of film. When combined with the mysterious nature of his narratives, this off-kilter technique makes for continually engaging viewing experiences, and the constant renewal of a cult of curiosity. Though I haven't yet watched The Man Who Fell to EarthBad Timing is perhaps the best representative of this timeless aesthetic. It makes the film a must-see for cinephiles, despite its flaws.

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