Significance: At the movies with Nicolas Roeg


Tell me some of your favourite films; you know, if you were to be stranded on a desert island, what movies would you like to have there with you, for company?

NICOLAS ROEG: It’s very difficult. I’m a massive film fan, I don’t know what would be favourites. Certainly, there’s one film that I guess started me being very interested in films, and that was Les Enfants Du Paradis (1945). That was Marcel Carné, but I wasn’t thinking anything about directors in those days. Must have been 1950 that I saw that. It was the last film they’d made before the end of the war in France. It was the last of the studio films, all studio, the end of that kind of formal filmmaking, but it had a real kind of daring. The look of it was so extraordinary, the acting wasn’t “theatrical”, but it wasn’t entirely Stanislavskian natural. It had a lot of magic to it, a kind of semi-realist thing…Stanley Kubrick was a film milestone for me – to choose one, I think probably 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). That preempted all the Star Wars and things, and I remember when he made it the studios were all very nervous: “God, what’s he doing, it doesn’t make sense…” So I liked that. That certainly set off things in me. The same as Last Year at Marienbad (1961)…I don’t think I could leave out David Lean, because he did the first “epic” with a small, very personal story – Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), he really made it a big thing, without it having to be charging horses or explosions…More recently, I liked Reservoir Dogs (1992), the energy of the thing, the idea of the people in it, breaking form and cliché. I thought it was exciting that Quentin Tarantino patently loves film, he’s not in it just for the business or the glory…Actually, I can remember the very first film I saw, Laurel and Hardy in Babes in Toyland (1934), that marvelous opening, blowing a feather up in the air…They’re fantastic. Can you imagine the connotations put on today of a fat man and a thin man putting on nightshirts and going to bed with each other? But that’s life, beautiful…Sweet Smell of Success (1957) the way Sandy McKendrick…Oh, and Shane (1953), I thought that was a truly great cowboy film, probably the last possibility of a real western: Elisha Cook getting blown away, just fantastic. The end was so daring, too. Was Shane dead? He had to go away, his gun hand was shot…“Come back Shane!”…Man Bites Dog (1992), that was a great film. It had a sense of lunatic impossibility, at the same time as being possible. It was the first time I’ve ever seen it so well used: that you saw the filming inside the filming. And yet going through it there was this mad, wonderful, violent story. I was totally surprised when that movie was hardly recognised here in the UK. I was amazed at that…Fellini…If it had to be one Fellini, I’d have La Dolce Vita (1960). For the whole period, the time in Rome. I love the idea of the journalist coming back for confirmation of hope and finding that the man he’s come to look for, the shrink, has shot himself, his wife and his two beautiful children. I think that’s fantastic. It’s a beautiful film. It caught the attitude of the moment, the essence of the time. There’s very little made today that catches the essence of our time. Strange that…Then, I don’t know…Jean Luc Godard. But I couldn’t choose a film. I’d like to choose him, as a film, if you know what I mean. And then, I couldn’t select only one film of Antonioni‘s, but how could I leave him out? These people moved movies: they advanced the medium. The sense of possibility: they’re the equivalents of what someone like Hemingway or Joyce are to the literary world. A whole bunch, Orson Welles and Bunuel and Bergman, Hitchcock, Kurosawa, Eisenstein…I guess I would take clips with me to this desert island. I’d make up an hour and a half of clips…What’s that? “A classic Nic Roeg montage”? Yes. Yes: It would be one of mine – but by them. Yeah, that would be great.


Image: detail from “Nic Roeg” by Petr Novák, Wikipedia