BAD TIMING is the one Nicolas Roeg film (from his initial period of peerlessly brilliant movies) which had so far eluded me; actually, for some reason, I had missed out on its one and only TV screening in my neck of the woods.
Following in the footsteps of Mick Jagger in PERFORMANCE (1970) and David Bowie in THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH (1976), Art Garfunkel was the third pop star to be engaged as an actor by Roeg. Harvey Keitel, on the other hand, was not Roeg's first choice for Inspector Netusil: the role had previously been offered to Albert Finney and Bruno Ganz (both of whom turned it down) and Malcolm McDowell (who was unavailable). While their casting is indeed eccentric, contrary to the general opinion, I found them both very good in their difficult roles. Despite her young age and the complexity of the character she was playing, the stunning Theresa Russell - who turned down SUPERMAN (1978) to do this but, ironically, is now currently engaged on SPIDER-MAN 3! - is simply astonishing in the film and she should by rights have become a huge star because of it; as it is, she ended up being criminally underused and her career has subsequently been disappointingly uneven.
While the film's working title was ILLUSIONS, its eventual title could be referring to the chance meeting between Garfunkel and Russell at a party (had either of them left earlier, they might never have met), to Garfunkel's inexplicably sluggish movements on the night of Russell's suicide attempt (which are under Keitel's dogged scrutiny) or even to estranged husband Denholm Elliott's reporting of Russell's recovery just as Garfunkel is about to break down under Keitel's relentless questioning and confess to his ravishment of her while she was practically comatose. Tragically, Garfunkel's plight in the film was eerily mirrored in real-life towards the end of shooting when his own girlfriend Laurie Bird - whose brief acting career included two films for Monte Hellman, TWO-LANE BLACKTOP (1971) and COCKFIGHTER (1974) - committed suicide in their apartment. Clearly one of Roeg's most personal films, BAD TIMING is not only a harrowing study of male-female relationships or more precisely "l'amour fou", but is also another depiction by Roeg (as had been the case with all his previous pictures) of characters stranded in a foreign land, in this case two Americans in Vienna. In hindsight, the tumultuous and almost deadly Garfunkel-Russell relationship is mirrored in the one between Garfunkel and Keitel, especially in the film's latter stages when the interrogation and subsequent revelation take center stage; the latter sequences, then, are capped by an enigmatic ending - due to Elliott's nick-of-time appearance and subsequent dematerialization - could this be a figment of Garfunkel's agitated state of mind? BAD TIMING is shot in Roeg's typically fragmented style which, this time around, can perhaps be explained by the fact that the narrator (Art or Theresa) is under a lot of emotional (Keitel's interrogation of Art) and physical (Theresa's life-saving surgery) strain. In another sense, BAD TIMING can even be seen as a sophisticated precursor to the erotic thrillers so prevalent in filmdom from the late-80s onwards.
For the third consecutive time, Anthony Richmond serves as director of photography for Roeg and the film also boasts a splendidly eclectic soundtrack - Billy Holliday, Keith Jarrett, The Who, Tom Waits, not to mention some typical Viennese zither music a' la THE THIRD MAN (1949) - an inspired choice to be sure but, ironically, the prohibitive rights issue costs were also one of the reasons why BAD TIMING has been out of the public eye for so long.
The Criterion DVD is therefore a very welcome introduction for me to this essential film. Intriguingly, it transpires that the film's backers, The Rank Organization, dubbed BAD TIMING "a sick film by sick people for sick people" and subsequently not only dropped their famous gong logo from the credit titles but refused to show it in their chain of theaters! Interestingly, the outline of the story emerged from an aborted collaboration between Roeg and famed Italian producer Carlo Ponti. Disappointingly, unlike Criterion's other Roeg DVDs, WALKABOUT (1971) and THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH, there is no Audio Commentary to be found here although Roeg is in a jovial mood in the accompanying interview. Also, a couple of the deleted scenes were quite good, particularly one in which Russell crashes a party and embarrasses Garfunkel with her drunken and lewd antics. For the record, during the four-year hiatus between THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH and BAD TIMING, Roeg had been connected with several high-profile projects which were eventually helmed by other people, namely FLASH GORDON (Mike Hodges, 1980), HAMMETT (Wim Wenders, 1982) and OUT OF Africa (Sydney Pollack, 1985). Unfortunately, Roeg's decline has proved to been one of the saddest in recent memory but his two current productions - PUFFBALL and ADINA - sound promising at least and hopefully they will come to fruition eventually!
Actually, after this viewing of BAD TIMING, I regret not purchasing Roeg's previous film, THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH, when Deep Discount DVD had their recent Criterion sale. However, I should be giving Roeg's subsequent film, (also starring his then wife Theresa Russell) EUREKA (1984), a first look via my VHS copy; actually, had it not been for the recent interview with the still gorgeous Russell conducted for the BAD TIMING DVD, I wouldn't have known that Roeg and Russell had separated!
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