Nicolas Roeg, Celebrated British Director, Dies At Age 90

Nicolas Roeg
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The family of Nicolas Roeg has confirmed that the legendary British filmmaker passed away on Friday, November 23. He was 90-years-old.

As the Hollywood Reporter reports in the posthumous profile that it published on his career, Roeg is remembered as a figure who was controversial to mainstream audiences but considered to be ahead of his time, particularly when it came to the visual aesthetics of his movies. Students of the craft note the influence he would have in Hollywood throughout the 1960’s and 70’s thanks to his manipulation of time, the unique composition of lighting, and his usage of color in the imagery that made his work stand out.

Much of the ground that Roeg’s style broke in Hollywood came before he even took the helm as a director. It would be 23 years after he began finding his way in the industry that Roeg made his directorial debut in the Donald Cammell co-directed feature, Performance (1971), which starred James Fox and front man for The Rolling Stones Mick Jagger.

Daily Mail points out that Roeg’s earliest roots in film can be traced to him operating the Marylebone Studios clapper board following his service in World War II. From the minor productions that he helped along in the London based studio, he’d transition to the role of camera operator in such features as The Trials of Oscar Wilde and The Sundowners. Most notably, Roeg would eventually land a director of photography gig for David Lean’s Academy Award winning title, Lawrence of Arabia. Although his firing from the set prevented Roeg from being properly credited for the impact he had on the movie, many acknowledge that his impact on the production is apparent.

Variety notes that Roeg’s resume as a cinematographer also includes credits as director of photography for Francois Truffaut’s Fahrenheit 451, Richard Lester’s A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, and John Schlesinger’s Far From the Madding Crowd. One of Roeg’s biggest breaks came when he had the privilege of working with Roger Corman on The Masque of the Red Death in 1964. Corman had something of a golden touch in the industry, as would show evident with the burgeoning of understudies James Cameron and Martin Scorsese in the years to come.

Roeg’s experimentation along the way would help shape his talent for enhancing scenes with the way he spliced and jumbled footage. Following his work with Cammell on the hedonistic Performance, Roeg went on to compose his first feature as solo director over the equally explicit Walkabout in 1971. While the film caused a stir because of its nudity, the hallucinogenic effect of some of its scenes impressed critics. Two years later he’d release Don’t Look Now (1973), which would take awhile to gain acclaim, but eventually gained prominence as a classic thanks to the innovative effect that the editing work had on its genre as a psychological thriller.

Don’t Look Now was followed by such films as The Man Who Fell to Earth (starring David Bowie in 1976), Bad Timing (1980), The Witches (1983) and Castaway in 1987. By 1994 the respect he gained earned him recognition from the British Film Institute and in 2011 he became distinguished as a Commander of the Order of the British Empire.

In his passing, Roeg leaves behind his wife of 13 years, Harriet Harper. According to Express, he is survived by four children that he had in his first marriage with actress Susan Stephen. They are Waldo, Nico, Sholto, and Luc Roeg. Roeg had also fathered two children by his second wife, actress Theresa Russell.

The official cause of Roeg’s death has not been disclosed.