Seen a quarter of a century on, 'Bad Timing' stands out as one of Nicolas Roeg's most satisfying and complex films and yet it can be one of his hardest to discuss. It's a film I feel a little guilty about writing so little about, but even on a second viewing it's still rather overwhelming. It's interesting how it manages to be so genuinely multi-layered, more like a novel than a film - the way it mixes voyeurism, spying and emotional, psychological and legal investigation (with Keitel's investigation of the suicide scene placing him firmly in scenes as an unseen voyeur through Terry Rawlings typically brilliant editing) is remarkable enough, but the film manages to do so much more besides. And the performances are incredibly brave - how many leading men can you think of who would effectively (and quite deliberately effeminately) play the woman's role during the lovers' initial meeting? Russell in particular shows an astonishing range in what should be an impossible part, making her inability to find decent roles these days even more disappointing.
True it falls apart in the last couple of reels when the performances don't quite ring true, but it's still the last great film Nic Roeg made before settling into prolific mediocrity. It's as a brilliantly edited post-mortem into a mutually destructive relationship rather than a police mystery that it really enthralls, even when it doesn't entirely work. Much more impressive than I remembered, it's not a feelgood movie - if anything it's the date movie from hell - but it is a remarkably ambitious and accomplished one.
So why is the film so little-known and perhaps even less-seen? Well, that seems to be down to some bad luck and bad timing of its own.
In the US it hit censorship problems and in Europe it had major problems with its distribution. It was one of Rank's last full slate of British productions, so should have been guaranteed a circuit release on the Odeon chain in the UK. Unfortunately, the head of Rank Theatres was so disgusted by the film (the Rank Organisation was originally started to make religious films and many of the old guard were still in place in 1980) that he refused to book it into a single one of their theatres - the only Rank film to be so 'honored' (although he wasn't much enamoured of Eagle's Wing either). The second biggest circuit was owned by Rank's biggest rival, EMI, who weren't interested in helping out their balance sheet, so it ended up on Lew Grade's very small Classic chain. Rank's distribution in Europe was no more enthusiastic.
(Of course, Roeg's next and most expensive film, Eureka, had even bigger problems, being pulled a couple of weeks after opening due to a libel lawsuit that kept it on the shelf for years. Since then, despite the not really successful brave try with Cold Heaven, he seems to be little more than a director for hire on a slew of disappointing pictures and cable movies.) As a result, it's been very hard to track down since its original release, but it's well worth the effort if you're looking for challenging fare.
Criterion's DVD boasts a much better transfer than the UK DVD (which only features a trailer) and a more comprehensive extras package - interviews with Russell, Roeg and producer Jeremy Thomas, stills gallery and 16 deleted scenes. However, the laziness that has crept into some recent Criterion discs is evident in the latter: while 8 of those deleted scenes have no soundtrack, surely it wouldn't have been asking too much of Criterion to have included subtitles for the missing dialogue or at least to have included an introductory caption explaining the scenes? It's an irritating blemish on an otherwise excellent disc.
Nicolas Roeg fell in love with and married Theresa Russell, his leading lady in 1980's the little known BAD TIMING (Criterion) and it is easy to see why. Russell is a sexualized force of nature as the troubled Milena.
Set mostly in cold war Vienna, Milena interacts with the various men in her life. But it is Milena herself that is central to all that happens because she is not only beautiful but also sadly flawed. Is it a borderline personality disorder, a damaged childhood, or a bi-polar illness? Or is she just a self-centered, spoiled brat? Whatever, the problem, it makes for a fascinating, character-driven story as Milena's life impacts a psychoanalyst (Art Garfunkle), a detective (Harvey Keitel) and her older husband.
As expected from Roeg, a highly regarded cinematographer, the digital transfer of the carefully composed film is stunning. But what created the biggest stir when it was initially released was the raw sexuality and eyebrow raising body-part specific nudity. (Think THE scene with Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct.)
The great score includes Billie Holliday, The Who and Tom Waits among others.
This is not exactly a date movie or a feel good flick, but it is a fascinating and disturbingly honest look at sexual obsession and a not uncommon type of mental illness.
It is worth finding and seeing with someone with whom you are planning to break up. This one raises serious questions that we usually prefer to not talk about.
on July 16, 2005
Innovative use of camera and flash-back sequences that might very well have inspired Tarentino distinguish this early 1980s classic, with memorable performances, even from Theresa Russell, and an understated script that reveals more through what is not said. The use of Klimt art work and the overall backdrop of the Vienna of Freud and Wittgenstein underscore the wistfulness of a once-grand intellectual centre in the same slow decay as the relationship depicted between Russell and Garfunkel. Denholm Eliott and Harvey Keitel give brilliantly understated supporting perfomances.
on February 5, 2007
We should get one thing out of the way first: Nicholas Roeg's films are not everybody. Moving on, this is possibly Roeg's best work and essential viewing for any movie lover or fan of great acting. Released in 1980, this movie was not at all well recieved. Rank, the film's distributor stalled on the film's release, there was the controversey over an X rating and critics and viewers, at the time, obviously didn't know what to make of it. Twenty five years later with so many changes in what is accepted in movies today, it might be seen as lighter fare....well, maybe.
Nicholas Roeg could easily be passed off as a "shock director", but he is a unique talent who makes movies that have so many layers of meaning that it takes more than one viewing, maybe even two to understand what his movies are really about. The setting is cold war Vienna. Alex, a famous psychiatrist meets Meleana, an artistic,talented beauty without an occupation. Their attraction is immediate, their story unfolds through a series of flashbacks. Roeg makes it clear from the very beginning that the story does not have a happy ending. It is up to the audience to stay and find out why.
Alex appears to be quite normal from the beginning. He has the high paying job, the renowned reputaion, a glamouras life of high society friends. Everything about Alex symbolizes control and normalcy. Later in the film, though, we find that this isn't so. Alex is may appear like this on the surface, but he is truly an insecure man.
Which might be why he is so intrigued of Meleana from the very beginning. Meleana represents everything that Alex is not and can never be. Leaning in a hallway at a party, she stops him dead in his tracks by blocking him with her leg. Her presence is show stopping in the film and it's meant to be. Meleana is street smart, daring, wise, experienced and most importantly INDEPENDANT. She doesn't rely on anyone or have any kind of expectaions from anyone. She is a legitimate free spirit. Alex may not know it then, but he's drawn to her for more than her beauty. She fills in all the things he can't or ever hope to.
Meleana is not perfect. As most free spirits are she is somewhat hypocritical, irresponsible and surperficial. But she doesn't try to hide things. She does love Alex, but she refuses to let it destroy who she is and what she is about. Alex, on the other hand, control freak that he is, is determined to change her. He wants to make Meleana normal, when he can't do that, his sickness starts and it becomes out of control, ending in disaster.
This is not just a movie about "sexual obsession", as has been touted, but about "obsession". Period. Roeg is making a very strong case about turning people into objects and not treating them or "loving" them as how they truly are. As Meleana tries to convey to Alex to an embarrassing and painful end, why can't he love her and trust her for who she is? This begs to question, is Meleana really irresponsible or is she just being who she is, without any promises to anyone? Is Alex so insecure with himself that he can't accept a person's, god forbid a WOMAN, to be independant?
Most of the answers lie in the movie's ending, which is devastating and upsetting. I venture to guess it's the kind of ending that Alfred Hitchcock would have attempted, if he wasn't worried about the outcome and how it would effect him later in his career. Though it is not intentional, the film does seems to unravel in a Hitchcock fashion. And this is something that was definatey overlooked when it was released, overshadowed by all of the controversey. It is a testatment to Roeg's talent and ability as a filmmaker. The story unfolds as vital drama but also as a suspenseful thriller.
Many eyebrowes were raised i'm sure to the casting of Art Garfunkel. But this makes perfect sense within the first ten minutes of the film. Garfunkel, hands down already looks the part: the receding hairline of goofy hair, the lanky body frame and the effeminate physicality and tone of voice. Garfunkel also has a boyish innocence that comes across throughout the film. He is totally in tune with who the character is. It's a performance that was probably overlooked and underrated. A very smart choice by the director to choose someone other than an actor expected to fill the part.
Alex signifies someone who isn't strong or secure. But Meleana is attracted to him for these very reasons. At a restaurant, when Alex becomes upset with Meleana flirting with another man, she tells him, "you're sexier", as she throws herself at him. Meleana is happy with who he is, it's Alex who can't accept himself and lets his insecurity go awry.
Theresa Russell is groundbreaking in the role of Meleana. It is hard to imagine that Russell was only 22 when she played the role. And it's impossible to think of another actress from that time playing a role like this. Russell proved herself early in her career playing alongside great 70's icons like Dustin Hoffman and Robert DeNiro. But Russell was obviously not going to play along by Hollywood's standards of what a beautiful actress should aspire to. Russell is an intelligent actress and an independant thinker. These characteristics are brought to the very center of Meleana. Russell inhabits the character, she's not "playing" a character. It is astonishing to watch her for the time she is onscreen. At one moment she is fine, in another she is hurt at the very center of her being, in another she experiences a bizarre bipolar episode, putting on clown makeup and throwing bottles onto an empty street at night. It's hard to remember when an actress took these kind of roles, let alone these kind of chances on the screen. Unfortunately, Russel's talent was overlooked that year because of the movie's subject matter and controversey. It's the kind of performance that should be studied by actors and directors alike.
The same can be said for Nicholas Roeg. He is a true original. Sadly, it seems that slew of other directors, David Lynch comes to mind, would be inspired and later lionized for the road that he paved for them. Roeg has continued to make films as controversal and important like Bad Timing. But it is obvious that this is the movie that he should be known for and continue to be seen.
on September 26, 2005
I think I've actually dated women like Theresa Russell in BAD TIMING, so I'm not sure if I should be the one to recommend this film to anyone: it almost plays like a documentary.
There was the one who told me that mental illness ran in her family and that her mother holds a laminated photo of Robert Redford up to her mouth for all-day conversations--and she told me that on our first date. There was the other one who spoke in a little girl's voice when the lights were out--every night. And the one who begged me to tie her up and then, when I'd relent, freak out and yell that she was an abused child. Yup, they're out there.
So maybe that's why I totally fell in love with Theresa Russell as the girl in this film: she brings out my worst instincts: I'm attracted to her and want to save her too. Bad timing, indeed. It always has been for me. Ms. Russell is brilliant in this.
Actually, I first fell for her when I saw 1984's version of THE RAZOR'S EDGE first (yes, the Bill Murray version--I loved it).
I'm glad to see this film get the full Criterion treatment and look forward to seeing all the extras. It's a bold, challenging film that I put right up there with DON'T LOOK NOW and LAST TANGO IN PARIS.
(And, if you really liked this film, check out Art Garfunkel with Jack Nicholson and Ann Margaret in CARNAL KNOWLEDGE, another dark and funny look into sexual follies).
on August 1, 2005
What an impressive movie.
More than anything else it deals with Milena's (Theresa Russell) Borderline Personality Disorder and the impact it has on the people around her:
on Alex (Art Garfunkel), absorbed by her, loving and hating her and her chaos, probably for the rest of his life, regardless, as the final scene suggests...
on her elderly husband, who so wisely states that love for her has to go beyond one's own dignity...
on the detective (Harvey Keitel), who obviously is or was in a similar relationship and failed to come to terms with it...
Certainly, the movie is dated, but the story is timeless.
on May 7, 2006
While I occasionally grew frustrated with this film, I soon realized what director Roeg was trying to do. This should be left up to the individual viewer to figure out. What should be particularly noted here is not only the gorgeous location photography, the gorgeous indoor photography and Roeg's use of color, but also the wonderful performance of Theresa Russell as Milena the wanton heroine. She is simply beautiful. The story of two polar opposites (Art Garfunkel and Russell) meeting and colliding in a psycho-sexual relationship is told in fragmented, flashback fashion that can get confusing. But if you stick with it, it has a powerful charge. It is in no way pleasant or amusing. The culmination of their unhappy relationship is disturbing and even appalling. There have been other films with similar themes ("Betty Blue" and "Turkish Delight" come to mind) but they were'nt quite this dark. Recommended for adults only.
My only memory of the film "Bad Timing" is seeing a photograph in one of the annual looks at Sex in the Cinema in "Playboy" of the totally nude Art Garfunkel and Theresa Russell in bed. My thought at the time was that whereas I did not understand why Garfunkel would rather be making movies than record albums with Paul Simon, that the photograph could provide an explanation of sorts. I did not flash on the that photograph until the appropriate scene in this 1980 film from director Nicolas Roeg popped up. I checked out the film because it is a Criterion Collection edition and basically I am game for anything they want to put out.
"Bad Timing" begins in a museum in Vienna, Austria where the paintings of Gustav Klimt are contrasted with the Tom Waits song "Invitation to the Blues," while Dr. Alex Linden (Garfunkel) and Milena Flaherty (Russell) check out the paintings and each other. Then the wailing of a siren makes its presence known and an ambulance is racing down the street while inside Milena is fighting for her life and apologizing to somebody named Stefan, while Alex sits there making sure the paramedic does not look at more than he should. From those two defining points of this relationship we begin jumping around in terms of both time and place. Milena took an overdose of pills and called Alex, who called the police. But Inspector Netusil (Harvey Keitel), who is assigned to the case, does not like what he hears from Alex in the way of answers to his questions. Netusil's investigation proceeds in a chronological, but the story of Alex and Milena's relationship jumps all over the place until we finally get to the scene that makes everything clear, although only we are privileged to the ultimate truth.
There is an infamous comment about "Bad Timing," made at the time it came out by an studio executive in England, that this was "a sick film made by sick people for sick people" (it is quoted on one of the bonus features. Stefan Vognic (Denholm Elliott) is Milena's husband, but she ends up having in intense sexually-charged relationship with Alex, a reserach psychiatrist from New York City who is teaching in Vienna. He is something of a cold fish and she tends to drink too much and could be something of a manic depressive given the highs and lows she goes through, but it could just be a question of how sober she is at any given time. A key scene regarding their relationship takes place on some stairs, where she starts ripping off her underwear and taunting Alex to take her then and there, which he does. I would not say that these two are sick, but what might be an erotic act from the perspective of the viewing does not seem to bring either one of them much pleasure beyond the sexual.
There is a curious disconnect between these two characters and I was wondering if this was more because it was the intent of the director or because Garfunkle's acting talent is limited, but then I remembered that I was not able to connect with either of Roeg's most noted earlier films, "Don't Look Now" and "The Man Who Fell to Earth." This guy and I are simply on different wavelenghts, besides, while I understand what he sees in her, but her interest in him has to be taken at face value for the story to work. Even if you agree that these are sick people, there is the question of exactly how they are sick and which one of them is sicker. But do not worry, that last issue will be clearly settled for you in the end. As it was, the question of why Milena would try to kill herself over Alex kept running into the solid certainty that he was not worth the effort. Only when we get to the truth of the matter did this film really command my attention, but what it revealed was hardly heartening or uplifting, and the film's final punch-line only wallows it its view of the world. The fact that the director ended up marrying his female star also ends up being worrisome food for thought.
on August 28, 2014
This movie makes it to "okay" solely on the fierce, manic performance of Theresa Russell alone, and she acts like she knows that. She puts her back into chewing the scenery here, so you get a sense of the madness that Nicholas Roeg was going for in at least one half of the couple. But what was Roeg thinking when he cast Art Garfunkel as the male lead in this movie? Especially when Harvey Keitel was RIGHT THERE, playing another part in which he was also disastrously miscast. Nearly everything wrong here could have been completely fixed by switching the two actors around in their roles. Keitel could play a part like the slightly sadistic, obsessed psychiatrist who falls for Russell's married expat in his sleep, and Garfunkel's chilly disaffect would have worked really well in the part of the inspector-detective-whatever-the-hell-that-guy-was. As it is the movie falls flat because we can never quite buy that Garfunkel really gives a crap about what he's supposed to be obsessing over. Oh well, at least there's Russell's performance and a lot of fancy film techniques that proved to be groundbreaking and oft-imitated to enjoy.
Nicolas Roeg is one of my favorite directors. Although he still directs today, his career started, hit its peak, and ended between his first film "Performance" and this film. Many people refer to this as Roeg's last great film and it is a great film. Better than "Performance" and "The Man Who Fell to Earth," but lacking the brilliance of "Walkabout" and "Don't Look Now." I've owned this film for nearly a year and have just now watched it and I can't believe I waited this long; This is really a terrific film. Roeg was always a director that played with chronology, but this film's chronology is certainly the most askewed of his other films. The film tells three stories at once, essentially. The first being why Milena Flaherty (Theresa Russell) is in the hospital. The second being the events leading up to her getting there. And the third being the relationship between Milena and Dr. Alex Linden (Art Garfunkel, in a terrific, underrated performance). Harvey Keitel also stars as Inspector Netusil, who's trying to find out exactly what happened the night that Milena wound up in the hospital. The film paints a visually haunting portrait of sexual obsession with powerhouse performances by Garfunkel and Russell. I've heard some reviewers call this film pretentious and it has its moments of pretentious-ness, but it's pretty realistic in my opinion...At least as a portrait of how sexual obsession can drive a person mad. If you're looking for Roeg films, I'd begin with "Walkabout" but don't wait long to see "Bad Timing," it's a keeper.