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Bad Timing (1980)

Courtesy of ITV Global Entertainment Ltd

Main image of Bad Timing (1980)
35mm, colour, Technovision, 123 mins
Directed byNicolas Roeg
Production CompaniesRecorded Picture Company, Rank Film Productions
Produced byJeremy Thomas
Screenplay byYale Udoff
PhotographyAnthony B. Richmond
Original MusicRichard Hartley

Cast: Art Garfunkel (Dr Alex Linden); Theresa Russell (Milena Flaherty); Harvey Keitel (Inspector Netusil); Denholm Elliott (Stefan Vognic); Daniel Massey (foppish man)

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An American psychiatrist based in Vienna begins an affair with one of his patients, and is drawn into an all-consuming passion that threatens to destroy them both.

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Bad Timing (1980) is one of Nicolas Roeg's least seen films. The studio, Rank, hated it, publicly disowned it and briefly banned it from its own cinemas. This is particularly unfortunate, since it is a pivotal film in Roeg's career. The experiments in non-chronological storytelling that stretch back to Performance (co-d. Donald Cammell, 1970) blossom here in a film which is, on first viewing, difficult to follow, but is ultimately extraordinarily insightful and moving in its painfully close examination of a destructive love affair.

The film takes the form of a detective mystery, in which the crime is only revealed gradually, as Roeg painstakingly guides us through the tortured relationship between Alex (Art Garfunkel) and Milena (Theresa Russell), from the optimism of its beginnings to the brutality of its ending. As a result, the revelations at the end of the film seem not merely shocking but inevitable.

Abandoning chronology, Roeg jumps around, taking cues from objects, pieces of music, habitual gestures and various artworks, all of which link one moment in time to another. This makes the film a little disjointed at first, but also gives the relationship more of a sensory impact, as we go from highs to lows with little warning. The explicit sex, a Roeg commonplace since Performance, is interesting here for how un-erotic it is. There is a disgust throughout, about sex and about the human body, frequently distorted in mirrors, glass and paintings - the key moment being the intercutting of a bloody operation on Milena's throat with a particularly passionate sexual encounter.

Garfunkel and Russell, given almost impossible roles, are extremely impressive - despite problems which brought both of them to the point of walking off the film - and their relationship is entirely convincing. Harvey Keitel's Netusil has an intense self-righteousness which is unnerving, more priest than detective, and Denholm Elliott is unbearably moving in the small but vital role of Stefan.

The film marks the third collaboration between Roeg and Anthony Richmond, and the cinematography of Vienna is suitably cold and oppressive, which contrasts well with the brief excursion to Morocco. Tony Lawson's editing is exemplary, fracturing the narrative without rendering the film incoherent. Also noteworthy is the soundtrack, which mixes Pachelbel, The Who, Billie Holiday and, most memorably, Tom Waits, whose poignant 'Invitation To The Blues' sets the perfect tone.

Mike Sutton

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Video Clips
1. Alex meets Milena (3:45)
2. Morocco (3:43)
3. Talking to Stefan (4:29)
Original Poster
Production stills
Elliott, Denholm (1922-1992)
Lawson, Tony
Roeg, Nicolas (1928-)
Thomas, Jeremy (1949-)