sat 25/05/2019

Blu-ray: Bad Timing | reviews, news & interviews

Blu-ray: Bad Timing

Blu-ray: Bad Timing

Obsession in Vienna with Art Garfunkel and Theresa Russell

Garfunkel and Russell in a film 'made by grown-ups for grown-ups'

With its combination of a Tom Waits lament and visuals tracking over art works by Viennese modernists like Klimt and Schiele, the opening of Nicolas Roeg’s 1980 Bad Timing stays in the memory – its mood remains just there. The territory is defined gradually: variations on obsession, sexual but not exclusively. One line in the script suggests “lineaments of gratified desire”, though the elements of gratification here remain dubious for all concerned.

Bad Timing came at the end of Roeg’s glorious 1970s, after Performance, Walkabout and Don’t Look Now. He came on a variation of the script through Italian producer Carlo Ponti, and brought in American dramatist Yale Udoff (whose only main screen credit it remains) to adapt, with the action moved from Italy to Vienna. There’s some but far from all of this background context on the gestation of the film in this new Blu-ray release in an interview with British producer Jeremy Thomas. Thomas raised the financing from Rank and 20th Century Fox: the relationship with the former would sour when they saw the result, with Rank removing its trademark gong-man from the credits.

It’s effectively a two-hander for Art Garfunkel (whose Eisenstein hair-do has never looked better) as Alex, an American psychoanalyst teaching in Vienna, and Theresa Russell as the disturbed Milena. The city of Vienna itself seems to play a significant part, combined with a memorable duo in supporting roles: Denham Elliott as the older Czechoslovak army man who’s Milena’s husband and Harvey Keitel the detective investigating her attempted suicide. Keitel looks unusual here, no denying it – possibly because he’d only been cast three days into filming, after other possibilities fell through; perhaps because of his name, Netusil, meaning in Czech “the man who didn’t know something”.

In due course, however, Keitel’s detective does discover it all, bringing together the confused and crucial timetable to which the title refers. The director’s well-tried jump-cut technique hits home, never more memorably than when showing us a tracheostomy. Unprepared lovers of the English language may be disillusioned to learn in closing scenes the true meaning of the word “ravishment”.  

The interview with Thomas reminds us of that lucky time when producers would, and could, take on a project based on the question, “Do I like it?”. (The Morocco scenes here surely foreshadow another Thomas project, Bertolucci’s later The Sheltering Sky). Thomas himself here describes Bad Timing as “made by grown-ups for grown-us”, though he then recalls that critics at the time took it as “for sick people, made by sick people”.

In the end, perhaps, it’s a film for young people: the only perspective of more mature wisdom here comes from Elliot’s character (though close to 60, looking much more youthful). From Elliot, and the nun of course. The nun? The deleted scenes on this Network release include one in which the lady appears with the line (loosely quoted), “Keep going, and pray”. The same section has a longer version of the party scene at which Garfunkel and Russell meet for the first time – and it looks almost accessible. But that was surely Roeg’s point in Bad Timing: making it accessible just wouldn’t tie in with the larger mood behind this remarkable film.

The director’s well-tried jump-cut technique hits home, never more memorably than when showing us a tracheotomy

rating

Editor Rating: 
5
Average: 5 (1 vote)

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