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Film and Electronic Arts
Nicolas Roeg’s films are extremely enigmatic: they are engaging and mysterious, asking more questions than they provide answers. They do not afford the viewer completeness of story, deliberately leaving out elements of the story in favor of a fractured narrative. Often, Roeg prioritizes a visual atmosphere over a consistency in time and space. By disseminating only selective information in a visual manner, Roeg creates a unique cinematic space that engages viewers to see the images subjectively, as if they are experiencing the emotions and thoughts of the characters themselves.
He achieves this subjective and enigmatic aesthetic through an abrupt and non-chronological editing style, a complex system of color meant to lead the viewer towards certain conclusions, and non-diagetic sounds that seem like diagetic sounds (like a thunderclap or gunshot). He also achieves this aesthetic by subtracting information and either leaving much up to the imagination of the viewer or simply offering the incomplete story as a completed work in itself.
The idiosyncrasy of Roeg’s directing style can be traced in two films on which he was the cinematographer: The Masque of the Red Death (1964), and Petulia (1968). In both films, Roeg learns how to use color in a complex system as a means to convey themes and ideas. There is a clear evolution from the former, in which color is used in one-to-one symbolic relationships, to the latter, where color is used as a visual tool for directing the viewer towards certain themes. As a director, Roeg takes both of these concepts in Don’t Look Now (1973) and uses them to create thematic tension in an understated, but impactful way.
In Petulia, director Richard Lester’s elliptical editing style, as well as his proclivity for rearranging time is a major influence on Roeg. When Roeg begins directing in 1970, he adapts Lester’s editing style to fit his unique aesthetic sensibility, which is partially abstract and deliberately incomplete. In Performance (1970), Walkabout (1971), and The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976), Roeg uses this fractured style to expand on his recurring theme of undetermined identity. Although their subject matter varies, each of these films feature characters who are questioning their own place in the world; Roeg highlights this indecision with the suppression of narrative, the manipulation of time, and an editing style that promotes disorientation.
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Lang, Simon J., "The Enigmatic Films of Nicolas Roeg" (2011). Senior Projects Spring 2011. 232.
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