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June 28, 2005

Don't Look Now

Nicolas Roeg -1973
British Region 2 DVD

I read the announcement yesterday that plans were made to remake Don't Look Now. According to the producer, Mark Gordon, the original film was, "very much a product of its time with a lot of atmospherics that wouldn't necessarily work today . . ." What has me confused is that Gordon is essentially criticizing the very things that make this version of Don't Look Now venerated as a horror classic.

For those who have never seen the film, a couple who's daughter has drowned accidentally, go to Venice. The husband, John, is restoring the artwork of an old church. The wife, Laura, meets two older women. One of the women is blind but has apparent psychic abilities. The blind woman claims to be able to see the dead daughter. During the time that John and Laura are in Venice, there is a serial killer on the loose.

The reason why Don't Look Now has achieved classic status is not for the story but the way the story is told. Nicolas Roeg's films from his first ten years are noted for their fragmented narratives and dynamic visual compositions. While I was aware that Roeg was a cinematographer prior to being a director, I learned from further research that he actually started out in the editing department of a small studio. While most of the narrative of Don't Look Now is linear, Roeg plays with the imagery so that shots from the past and present echo each other, and the viewer is as visually disoriented as the characters. One of the main visual motifs is in the use of the color red, the color of the raincoat that the drowned daughter wears. Maybe I'm slow, but it took me over thirty years and several viewings to notice that there is a photo of the killer in the beginning of the film.

The film is also very much about atmosphere especially at the end, with Donald Sutherland lost in foggy streets, with Julie Christie unable to find him. Because of the set ups, there is more tension and surprise in the two moments of terror - the scene with Sutherland almost falling off the scaffold, high inside the church, and the climax at the end. I don't know if Roeg watched any Italian thrillers that were released at the time he was shooting in Venice, but there is similarity to scenes particularly by Dario Argento. I wouldn't be surprised if Don't Look Now has had an influence on some of the current makers of Japanese horror films, particularly Deep Water.

If the remake of Don't Look Now is actualized, I suspect that the narrative will be totally straightened out, the horror amped way up, and the eroticism totally muted. The scene of Christie and Sutherland cross cut to alternate between shots of love making with shots of getting dressed isn't as erotic for me as it was on first viewing. It is an important scene showing the re-establishment of intimacy after grief. While Christie and especially Sutherland were game for on screen nudity, I can't imagine this scene being duplicated in any way especially within confines of the almost obligatory PG13, and the general lack of interest is Hollywood to depict adults in love.

Looking back at Don't Look Now, in SFX Magazine - August 1999, Roeg has stated: "It had a situation in which people were in danger, as we all are, permanently. That's part of life. And God knows that now that I'm in my 70s its all 'you must be careful of this and careful of that', or 'don't do this or don't do that'. Well, it's not going to make much difference anyway. We're only hanging by a thread, and we're here to live. We think we can control life, but we can't control anything. We're constantly taken by surprise. And in the best science fiction or fantasy you can never really second guess it because it does away with all the expectancy of behaviour."

Posted by peter at June 28, 2005 06:41 PM


I've seen this only once, but I loved the fragmentation of it, especially at the beginning when it wasn't immediately clear to me what had happened. But a remake? Horrible idea.

Posted by: Tuwa at May 10, 2006 06:59 AM