Idiosyncratic film director Nicolas Roeg, whose odd but compelling films included Performance and The Man Who Fell To Earth, has died. He passed away on Friday night of undisclosed causes at age 90, according to his son.
Roeg’s work, which was often opaque and non-traditional, influenced a generation of filmmakers, but wasn’t widely accepted at first. Performance was almost not released, and later re-cut by Warner Bros., whose executives found it almost incomprehensible. It is now considered a classic, decades later.
Before directing, Roeg had built a solid reputation as a cinematographer, winning acclaim for his work on Far From The Madding Crowd and Fahrenheit 451, among others.
But it was his work on Performance that caused a stir. Co-directed with Donald Cammell, its non-linear narrative and dark tones recalled such auteurs as Jean-Luc Godard and Richard Lester. It became a signature piece, leading to such stylized and arty works as Walkabout (a Cannes favorite which featured full frontal nudity), Don’t Look Now and the strange The Man Who Fell To Earth, which featured David Bowie in his Ziggy Stardust-era persona as an alien who came to our planet.
Based on a 1963 novel, Roeg worked with Bowie, Candy Clark, Buck Henry and Rip Torn to craft a beautifully filmed but somewhat vague saga of an alien adapting to earth. It debuted at the Berlin Film Festival, but allegedly was rejected by a furious Barry Diller at Paramount. It was then released independently and went on to become a cult classic.
Roeg’s capped his career with The Witches, an adaptation of Roald Dahl’s children’s tale featuring Anjelica Huston and produced by Jim Henson. It was not a typical children’s movie, and reportedly horrified Dahl, since its ending differed from his book.
Born in London, Roeg worked his way up in cinema as an office boy and apprentice film editor, learning his craft as a cinematographer on such films as The Trials of Oscar Wilde, The Great Van Robbery, and Information Received. His big breakthrough to wider attention came with his work on Lawrence of Arabia, and he went on to work with such directors as Roger Corman, Richard Lester, Francois Truffaut and John Schlesinger, among others.
Roeg became a fellow of the British Film Institute, an award presented to individuals in “recognition of their outstanding contribution to film or television culture” and was honored by other organizations later in life, when his works finally gained traction.
Survivors include Roeg’s third wife, actress Harriet Harper, as well as his four children with his first wife, actress Susan Stephen, including producer Nicolas Roeg Jr., Luc Roeg, first a.d. Sholto J. Roeg and first a.d. Waldo Roeg; and two children with his second wife, actress Russell, actor Max Roeg and cameraman Statten Roeg.