The films of Nicolas Roeg by Richard Kovitch.
‘The motion picture is still such a magical and mysterious combination of reality, art, science and the supernatural—as well as the gateway to the nature of Time, and perhaps even the first clue in solving the puzzle of what we’re doing here on this world.’– Nicolas Roeg
Born the 15th August 1928, director Nicolas Roeg has been alive almost as long as cinema has mixed sound and vision to such hypnotic effect. His career began amidst the austere gloom of post-war Britain. ‘In those days getting a job at a studio was like getting a job in a factory,’ he notes in his memoir The World Is Ever Changing. This was an era before film schools and theory influenced the medium. Work fixated upon the industrial; the application of machinery and technical knowledge to document stories. But it was from learning this trade, by immersing himself in the industry’s conventions, that Roeg would come to challenge the methods of working, and from there ‘the art grew.’
Roeg’s formative years were spent at De Lane Lea on Wardour Street before he moved to MGM at Borehamwood. He was originally a camera operator, then a focus puller, then cinematographer. He worked with the greats and observed them, always learning, always inquisitive. Roger Corman’s Masque Of Red Death, David Lean’s Lawrence Of Arabia, François Truffaut’s Fahrenheit 451 — ‘it was a magical time, mysterious’ and underlined to Roeg how much more there is to film than merely writing, theatre and photography. ‘Oscars are won with 2 or 3 shots,’ he told the Guardian in 2005. It is emotion that burns on the memory: the human face, the panoramic view, the instant when image and sound combine to create moments of triumph or defeat. Roeg extrapolates on this: ‘An image makes more emotional sense than words because it helps the imagination on its way visually rather than just by interpretation.’ Films show, they don’t tell, even if—in the case of Roeg—what they show is elusive and illusory.
By David Gavan.
[Image: © Geoff MacCormack / Genesis Publications 2013]
“What a terrifically clever idea this is. I am all kinds of shades of green as I didn’t think of it first. Take the two of us and pretend that we went to America, Japan and, wait for it, fucking Russia of all places, me as a rock star and you as a cheerful backing singer and sidekick and then write a book about it. Brilliant! Will you actually be able to get this stuff published, do you think?”
– David Bowie, from the foreword to From Station to Station: Travels with Bowie 1973- 76
Back in January 1973, Geoff MacCormack was selling advertising space for a London construction magazine when he was head-hunted in the most astounding manner. A telephone caller told him (“Forget being asked”) that he was to provide backing vocals and percussion for Ziggy Stardust’s band, the Spiders From Mars, during their forthcoming world tour. The voice on the ‘phone belonged to David Bowie. By the end of the month, MacCormack (along with his camera) was bound for New York with his famously flight-phobic new boss on the opulently appointed SS Canberra.
“If that wasn’t cool enough,” he recalls, “David wasn’t keen to fly, so we travelled to America, Japan and Russia by road, sea, and rail, which was an absolute bonus. The week-long cruise to New York was as un-rock ‘n’ roll as it gets, so we’d kill the boredom by dressing for dinner, getting blotto, and chatting with our fellow passengers. During dinner we’d do our Oscar Wilde and Bosie routine: I’d ask David, ‘More vegetables, my dear Oscar?’ And he’d roll his eyes disdainfully and say, ‘I find vegetables so very vulgar.’ Obviously, we stood out a bit!