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Nicolas Roeg

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Roeg at the 43rd Karlovy Vary International Film Festival in 2008
Nicolas Jack Roeg

(1928-08-15)15 August 1928
London, England
Died 23 November 2018(2018-11-23) (aged 90)
London, England
Other names Nicholas Jack Roeg
  • Director
  • cinematographer
Years active 1947–2018
Susan Stephen
(m. 1957; div. 1977)
(m. 1982, divorced)
Harriet Harper
(m. 2005)
Children 6

Nicolas Jack Roeg CBE BSC (/ˈrɡ/) was an English film director and cinematographer, best known for directing Performance (1970), Walkabout (1971), Don't Look Now (1973), The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976), Bad Timing (1980), and The Witches (1990).

Making his directorial debut 23 years after his entry into the film business, Roeg quickly became known for an idiosyncratic visual and narrative style, characterized by the use of disjointed and disorienting editing. For this reason, he is considered a highly influential filmmaker, cited as an inspiration by such directors as Steven Soderbergh, Christopher Nolan, and Danny Boyle.

In 1999, the British Film Institute acknowledged Roeg's importance in the British film industry by respectively naming Don't Look Now and Performance the 8th and 48th greatest British films of all time in its Top 100 British films poll.

Early life

Roeg was born in St John's Wood in North London on 15 August 1928 to Jack Nicolas Roeg and Mabel Gertrude (née Silk). He had an older sister, Nicolette (1925-1987), who was an actress. His father was of Dutch ancestry and worked in the diamond trade, but lost a lot of money when his investments failed in South Africa. Roeg had said that he entered the film industry only because there was a studio across the road from his home in Marylebone. Roeg was educated at the Mercers' School in London.



In 1947, after completing National Service, Roeg entered the film business as a tea boy moving up to clapper-loader, the bottom rung of the camera department, at Marylebone Studios in London. For a time, he worked as a camera operator on a number of film productions, including The Sundowners and The Trials of Oscar Wilde.

He was a second-unit cinematographer on David Lean's Lawrence of Arabia (1962) and this led to Lean's hiring Roeg as cinematographer on his next film, Doctor Zhivago (1965); however, Roeg's creative vision clashed with that of Lean and eventually he was fired from the production and replaced by Freddie Young, who received sole credit for cinematography when the film was released in 1965. He was credited as cinematographer on Roger Corman's The Masque of the Red Death and François Truffaut's Fahrenheit 451, as well as John Schlesinger's Far from the Madding Crowd and Richard Lester's Petulia; the latter is the last film on which Roeg was solely credited for cinematography and also shares many characteristics and similarities with Roeg's work as a director.


In the late 1960s, Roeg moved into directing with Performance, alongside Donald Cammell. The film centres on an aspiring London gangster (James Fox) who moves in with a reclusive rock star (Mick Jagger) to evade his bosses. The film featured cinematography by Roeg and a screenplay by Cammell, the latter of whom had favoured Marlon Brando for the James Fox role. The film was completed in 1968 but withheld from release by its distributor Warner Bros. who, according to Sanford Lieberson, "didn't think it was releasable." The film was eventually released with an X-rating in 1970 and, despite its initial poor reception, has come to be held in high esteem by critics due to its cult following.

He followed up with Walkabout, which tells the story of an English teenage girl and her younger brother who are abandoned in the Australian Outback after their father's death and forced to fend for themselves, with the help of an Aboriginal boy on his walkabout. Roeg cast Jenny Agutter in the role of the girl, his own son Luc as the boy, and David Gulpilil as the Aboriginal boy. It was widely praised by critics despite lack of commercial success.

His next film, Don't Look Now, is based on Daphne du Maurier's short story of the same name and starred Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland as a married couple in Venice mourning the death of their daughter. The film was widely praised by critics and considered one of the most important and influential horror films ever made.

Similarly to Performance, he cast musicians in leading roles for his next two films, The Man Who Fell to Earth and Bad Timing. The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976) stars David Bowie as a humanoid alien who comes to Earth to collect water for his planet, which is suffering from a drought. The film divided critics and was truncated upon its U.S. release. Despite this, it was entered into the Berlin International Film Festival where Roeg was nominated for the Golden Bear. It is today considered an important science fiction film and is one of Roeg's most celebrated films. Bad Timing was released in 1980 and stars Art Garfunkel as an American psychiatrist living in Vienna who develops a love affair with a fellow expatriate (played by Theresa Russell, to whom Roeg was later married), which culminates in the latter being rushed to hospital due to an incident the nature of which is revealed over the course of the film. At first, it was disliked by critics, as well as by the Rank Organisation, its distributor, who allegedly described it as "a sick film made by sick people for sick people." Rank requested that their logo be taken off the finished film.

Bad Timing marked the beginning of a three-film partnership with Jeremy Thomas. The second of these films Eureka (1983) is loosely based on the true story of Sir Harry Oakes; it received a largely limited release both theatrically and on home video. It was followed up with Insignificance, which imagines a meeting between Marilyn Monroe, Albert Einstein, Monroe's second husband Joe DiMaggio, and Senator Joseph McCarthy. Insignificance was screened in competition at the 1985 Cannes Film Festival, with the film being selected to compete for the Palme d'Or.

In 1986, Roeg was approached by then Secretary of State for Health and Social Services Norman Fowler and the advertising agency TBWA to direct the British government's public health campaign AIDS: Don't Die of Ignorance.

His next two films, Castaway and Track 29, are considered minor entries in his oeuvre. Roeg was selected to direct an adaptation of Roald Dahl's children's novel The Witches by Jim Henson, who had procured the film rights to the book in 1983. This would prove to be his last major studio film and proved a great success with critics, although it was a box-office failure. Roeg made only three theatrical films following The Witches: Cold Heaven (1992), Two Deaths (1995), and Puffball (2007). Roeg also did a small amount of work for television, including Sweet Bird of Youth, an adaptation of the Tennessee Williams play, and Heart of Darkness.

Style and influence

Roeg's films are known for having scenes and images from the plot presented in a disarranged fashion, out of chronological and causal order, requiring the viewer to do the work of mentally rearranging them to comprehend the story line. They seem to "shatter reality into a thousand pieces" and are "unpredictable, fascinating, cryptic, and liable to leave you wondering what the hell just happened..." This is also the strategy of Richard Lester's 1968 film Petulia, which was Roeg's last film as a cinematographer only. A characteristic of Roeg's films is that they are edited in disjunctive and semi-coherent ways that make full sense only in the film's final moments, when a crucial piece of information surfaces; they are "mosaic-like montages [filled with] elliptical details which become very important later."

These techniques, along with Roeg's foreboding sense of atmosphere, influenced later such filmmakers as Steven Soderbergh, Tony Scott, Ridley Scott, François Ozon, and Danny Boyle. In addition to this, Christopher Nolan has said his film Memento would have been "pretty unthinkable" without Roeg and cites the finale of Insignificance as an influence on his own Inception. In addition to this, Steven Soderbergh's Out of Sight features a love scene that is visibly influenced by that in Don't Look Now.

A further theme that can be seen to be running through Roeg's filmography is characters who are out of their natural setting. Examples of this include the schoolchildren in the Outback in Walkabout, the men and women in Venice in Don't Look Now, the alien on Earth in The Man Who Fell to Earth, and the Americans in Vienna in Bad Timing.

Roeg's influence on cinema is not limited to deconstructing narrative. The "Memo from Turner" sequence in Performance predates many techniques later used in music videos. The "quadrant" sequence in Bad Timing, in which the thoughts of Theresa Russell and Art Garfunkel are heard before words are spoken set to Keith Jarrett's piano music from The Köln Concert, stretched the boundaries of what could be done with film.

Legacy and honours

Roeg's cinematic work was showcased at the Riverside Studios from 12–14 September 2008. He introduced the retrospective with Miranda Richardson, who starred in Puffball. The programme included Bad Timing, Far from the Madding Crowd, The Man Who Fell to Earth, The Witches, Eureka, Don't Look Now, and Insignificance. The London Film Academy organised this event for Roeg in honour of his patronage of the school.

In 1994, he was awarded a British Film Institute Fellowship. In the 1996 New Year Honours, Roeg was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire.

Personal life

From 1957 to 1977, Roeg was married to English actress Susan Stephen. They had four sons: Waldo, Nico, Sholto and (film producer) Luc Roeg. Luc appeared as an actor, as Lucien John, in Walkabout, Roeg's first film as solo director.

In 1982, Roeg married American actress Theresa Russell and they had two sons: Maximillian (an actor) and Statten Roeg. They later divorced.

Roeg was married to Harriet Harper from 2005 until his death in 2018.


On 23 November 2018, Roeg died in London at the age of 90.

Actor Donald Sutherland (who named one of his sons after Roeg) described Roeg as a "fearless visionary". Filmmaker Duncan Jones, the son of David Bowie, who starred in The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976), also paid tribute to Roeg, calling him a "great storyteller" and "inimitable".


Roeg is credited on the following films:

Films as director

Year Title Notes
1966 Judith 2nd unit director
Directed by Daniel Mann
1970 Performance Co-director with Donald Cammell
Also cinematographer
1971 Walkabout Also cinematographer

Nominated- Palme d'Or

1972 Glastonbury Fayre Co-director with Peter Neal
1973 Don't Look Now Nominated- BAFTA Award for Best Direction
1976 The Man Who Fell to Earth Nominated- Golden Berlin Bear
Nominated- Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation
1980 Bad Timing London Film Critics' Circle Award for Director of the Year
Toronto International Film Festival People's Choice Award
1983 Eureka
1985 Insignificance Cannes Technical Grand Prize
Nominated- Palme d'Or
1986 Castaway
1987 Aria Segment: "Un ballo in maschera"

Nominated- Palme d'Or

1988 Track 29 Nominated- Deauville Critics Award
1990 The Witches Nominated- Fantasporto International Fantasy Film Award
Nominated- Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation
1991 Cold Heaven
1995 Full Body Massage Made for TV
Two Deaths Nominated- Gold Chicago Hugo
2007 Puffball


Year Title Notes
1967 Breakthrough
1995 Hotel Paradise
2000 The Sound of Claudia Schiffer


Year Title Notes
1961 Ghost Squad 2 episodes
The Pursuers Episode: "The Frame"
1989 Sweet Bird of Youth Television film
1993 The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles Episode: "Paris, October 1916"
Heart of Darkness Television film
1995 Full Body Massage
1996 Samson and Delilah

Films as cinematographer

Year Title Director Notes
1960 Jazz Boat Ken Hughes Co-cinematographer with Ted Moore
1961 Information Received Robert Lynn
1962 Dr. Crippen
Band of Thieves Peter Bezencenet
1963 Just for Fun Gordon Flemyng
The Caretaker Clive Donner
1964 The Masque of the Red Death Roger Corman
Nothing But the Best Clive Donner Nominated- BAFTA Award for Best Cinematography (Colour)
Code 7, Victim 5 Robert Lynn
The System Michael Winner
1965 Every Day's a Holiday James Hill
1966 Fahrenheit 451 François Truffaut
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum Richard Lester
1967 Far from the Madding Crowd John Schlesinger Nominated- BAFTA Award for Best Cinematography (Colour)
Nominated- National Society of Film Critics Award for Best Cinematography (3rd place)
1968 Petulia Richard Lester
1970 Performance Himself Also director
1971 Walkabout

Additional photography credits

Year Title Director DoP Notes
1962 Lawrence of Arabia David Lean Freddie Young 2nd unit photography
1965 Doctor Zhivago Additional photography
1967 Casino Royale Ken Hughes
John Huston
Joseph McGrath
Robert Parrish
Val Guest
Jack Hildyard
John Wilcox

See also

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