DVD & Blu-ray Reviews

Blu-ray: Don’t Look Now

Nicolas Roeg’s classic 1973 film gets re-released on Blu-ray with a wonderful transfer and some interesting new extras.

Based on the short story by Daphne du Maurier, it is about an architect, John (Donald Sutherland) and his wife Laura (Julie Christie), who relocate to Venice after a family tragedy.

There they meet two elderly sisters, one of whom (Hilary Mason) appears to be psychic and claims that their recently deceased daughter has been trying to warn them about something from beyond the grave.

A work of startling power and originality, it formed part of Roeg’s brilliant run of films in the 1970s which began with Performance (1970), co-directed with Donald Cammell, Walkabout (1971), The Man Who Fell To Earth (1976) and Bad Timing (1980).

Like those pictures, its reputation has increased considerably over time and it rewards repeated viewings, which reveal remarkable depths to Roeg’s technique and storytelling style.

The opening sequence is perhaps one of the greatest in post-war cinema, almost a film-within-a-film, and forms a stunning prologue to the action which later unfolds in Italy.

Wintry Venice is captured with remarkable authenticity – it was nearly all shot on location – and wisely the filmmakers opted to explore the less famous back alleys of the watery city.

This distinctive feel is boosted by the astonishing cinematography by Anthony Richmond and masterful editing by Graeme Clifford, which combine brilliantly to give the film its unique flavour.

Clifford has remarked that Roeg wanted this to be his “exercise in film grammar” and it is a visual feast for those prepared to look beyond the surface (as Sutherland’s character says early on “nothing is what it seems”).

Keep an eye out for the colour red, water, breaking glass and how they are sprinkled throughout with some highly inventive editing.

Perhaps most impressive is how Roeg uses these technical elements to accentuate the emotional core of the story, which centres on love, death, fate and grief.

Indeed, it is rare to find any film that mixes thought, feeling and style in the way Don’t Look Now does.

This is aided by wonderful performances from Sutherland and Christie, who do some of the best work of their careers and make a very convincing married couple, which is a surprisingly rare thing on film.

The memorable score is by Pino Donaggio, who was a Venetian singer and songwriter previously best known for his song “Lo Che Non Vivo” (later covered by Dusty Springfield in 1966 as “You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me”).

It was his first experience working on a film and his rawness worked wonders, with his piano pieces, flute and strings providing a rich aural backdrop for what we see on screen.

An independent British and Italian co-production, the film was generally well received by critics on its initial release, although the US opening was hampered by an undeserved X-rating, due to the famous love scene.

Although comparatively tame by today’s standards, the censorious attitudes of the US censors to sex (still a problem even today) almost certainly dented the film’s commercial prospects in America, where cinemas and advertisers refuse to touch X-rated films.

For those interested in more back story to the US release, Peter Biskind’s recent biography of Warren Beatty claimed US distributor Paramount may have pressured the ratings board into giving the film an X-rating.

Why would they do this? Reportedly it was done as a favour to a certain movie star and may even be what Sutherland refers to on the extras to this disc when he talks of ‘famous’ and ‘nefarious’ influences on the film’s American release.

Despite this, its reputation has blossomed in the years since, so much so that it is now rightly considered a classic, coming eighth in a 1999 BFI poll and even topping Time Out’s list of the best British films of the 20th century earlier this year.

The original materials must have been in good shape as this restoration (overseen by Roeg and Tony Richmond) looks stunning: although there are traces of natural film grain, the clarity of the images on screen is stunning and probably a testament to the care in how it was originally shot and put together.


Some of the extras have been ported over from the 2006 DVD re-release but are well worth revisiting and the new material centres around a batch of interviews with various cast and crew.

* Note that some extras feature heavy spoilers, so if you are new to the film be sure to watch them after your first viewing *

  • Audio Commentary by Nic Roeg: The director is joined by film critic Adam Smith for a highly informative commentary. Perhaps because the film is so visually rich, they opt for a wide ranging discussion triggered by certain scenes rather than try to keep up with everything we see on screen. Roeg is a fascinating talker and the conversation varies between production stories, the themes of the story, the difficulty of shooting on location on Venice and details about key moments.
  • Introduction by Alan Jones (7:12): This video introduction provides a little bit of context although it might have been improved with some visual elements, as it is basically a man talking to a camera.
  • Looking Back (19:31): A substantial featurette with interviews from Roeg, DP Anthony Richmond and editor Graeme Clifford. They all discuss various aspects of the film including the recurring imagery (water, the colour red, breaking glass), the themes of fate and coincidence, the fragmentary approach to visuals and the difficulty of shooting in Venice. The eloquent insights into the film might even surprise seasoned viewers. (N.B. Roeg is interviewed in a church and you might want to keep an eye on the background)
  • Death in Venice: Interview with Pino Donaggio (17:36): An essential element of the film is Pino Donaggio’s remarkable music. In this featurette the Italian composer describes his background and how Roeg hired him, despite the fact that he had never scored a film before. He was better know until then as a successful singer and songwriter and one startling fact is that Dusty Springfield’s 1966 hit “You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me” was actually a cover of his song “Io Che Non Vivo (Senza Te)”. Roeg encouraged him to avoid certain conventions and combined with Donaggio’s rawness, made for an unusual and unforgettable score. Donaggio describes his use of music for certain sequences, such as the opening, the love scene and the climax. He also talks about how his work here led to him working with Brian De Palma on several films.
  • Trailer (2:32): This seems to be the original UK trailer and is notable for the quick cutting style, which gives it a surprisingly contemporary feel.

Newer special features include these series of interviews, along with an archive featurette:

  • Danny Boyle (15:10): The director of Slumdog Millionaire and Trainspotting is a massive fan of Roeg and Don’t Look Now, which he describes as “one of the masterpieces of the 20th century”. He also talks about Roeg’s unique directorial style and how, along with David Lynch, he is rare in exploring the ‘enigma’ of cinema. The fascinating and illuminating chat also covers how the director uses the persona of actors, a particular shot he copied for Trainspotting and a compressed version of the film (also included on the disc) that he made for a BAFTA tribute.
  • Allan Scott (14:31): The screenwriter discusses his amazing double life as a writer and businessman, his approach to screenwriting, the changes from the Daphne Du Maurier short story, the process of working with Nic Roeg (he did other projects with the director) and the film’s legacy.
  • Tony Richmond (23:48): The DP describes how he got into the industry, his background in music documentaries, the symbolism in Don’t Look Now, shooting the opening scene in Hertfordshire, the difficulties of shooting in Venice, using the newer Panavision cameras, natural light, shooting the love scene quickly and secretly and the uniqueness of Roeg’s style.
  • Donald Sutherland (23:14): The actor talks about how he was cast, his early thoughts on the script (which Roeg quickly shot down), his fear of vertigo and drowning, doing his own stunts, the power of the story, working with Julie Christie and the technical innovations of the film. He also discusses how ‘famous’ and ‘nefarious’ influences may have had a part in US distributor Paramount cutting out 25 minutes, the enduring power of the famous sex scene (and the difficulties of filming it) and he also has a fantastic anecdote about an actor friend (who wasn’t in the film). Sutherland also makes a fairly astounding admission about watching his own movies.

Also new are these two featurettes:

  • Compressed version of Don’t Look Now made by Danny Boyle for BAFTA tribute (4:31): Although interesting I’m not sure how I feel about the inclusion of this. One can only assume that it was made with the best of intentions (it was for a BAFTA Roeg tribute night after all) but the music track is totally out of whack with the images and the scenes from the film lose a lot of power when stripped from their original context.
  • Excerpt Sex and Death from documentary “Nothing Is As It Seems” (15:37): This excerpt from a TV documentary (shot in what appears to be the late 1970s) on grief features Dr. Colin Murray Parkes, a psychiatrist and expert on bereavement, discussing the issue in relation to Don’t Look Now. Skilfully intercut with clips from the film, it provides an interesting scientific counterpoint to the paranormal ideas presented in the film.

In what has been a great year for classic 1970s cinema on Blu-ray, with notable re-releases of Taxi Driver and Apocalypse Now, and now Don’t Look Now.

An essential classic of 1970 cinema, it has never looked better and is an essential purchase both for new and seasoned viewers.

Don’t Look Now is released on Monday 4th July by Optimum Home Releasing

> Buy Don’t Look Now on Blu-ray from Amazon UK
> Find out more about Don’t Look Now at the IMDb and Wikipedia
> Features on Nic Roeg at IndieWire and Senses of Cinema
> Observer feature on Don’t Look Now from 2006
> Nicolas Roeg’s Top 10 films at The Criterion Collection
> BAFTA Tributes to Nic Roeg in 2009 featuring Danny Boyle, Christopher Nolan, Kevin MacDonald, James Marsh, Guillermo Del Toro, Mike Figgis and Paul Greengrass
> BBC interview with Nic Roeg
> Listen to our interview with DP Anthony Richmond and his work with Nic Roeg on Don’t Look Now and The Man Who Fell To Earth

DVD & Blu-ray Interviews Podcast

Interview: Anthony Richmond on Nicolas Roeg

Cinematographer Anthony Richmond worked alongside director Nicolas Roeg on Don’t Look Now (1973) and The Man Who Fell To Earth (1976).

Don’t Look Now is an adaptation of the short story by Daphne du Maurier, and stars Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland as a married couple who travel to Venice only to haunted by the death of their recent daughter.

It recently topped Time Out’s list of the 100 best British films and remains a remarkably atmospheric drama with its brilliant editing, haunting visuals and great use of the wintry Italian locations.

The Man Who Fell To Earth is a cult adaptation of the Walter Tevis novel about a mysterious man (David Bowie) who seemingly arrives from another planet and builds a vast business empire before becoming a recluse.

An unusual and rewarding film, it has aged like a fine wine with an inventive approach to time and enduring exploration of the forces that shape modern society.

Both films are getting re-releases on Blu-ray and I recently spoke to Anthony about his work on what are now seminal films of the 1970s.

You can listen to the interview by clicking here:


You can also download this interview as a podcast via iTunes by clicking here.

Optimum Home Entertainment release The Man Who Fell To Earth today on Blu-ray and Don’t Look Now is out on June 27th

> Download this interview as an MP3 file
> Buy The Man Who Fell To Earth on Blu-ray and pre-order Don’t Look Now from Amazon UK
> Anthony Richmond at the IMDb
> Nicolas Roeg at Wikipedia
> Review of The Man Who Fell To Earth Blu-ray

DVD & Blu-ray Reviews

Blu-ray: The Man Who Fell To Earth

Nicolas Roeg‘s stylish sci-fi film looks terrific on the new Blu-ray release from Optimum.

Loosely adapted from the novel by Walter Tevis, it depicts the arrival of enigmatic stranger Thomas Jerome Newton (David Bowie) as he quickly makes a fortune by securing advanced industrial patents with the help of a New York lawyer (Buck Henry).

Retreating to New Mexico he falls in love with a hotel chambermaid (Candy Clark) and recruits a disillusioned chemistry professor (Rip Torn) to build a spaceship so he can save his dying planet.

Director Nicolas Roeg and screenwriter Paul Mayersberg opted for a different brand of sci-fi, with an elliptical story highlighting the emptiness of existence on earth rather than depicting the mysteries of the cosmos.

It baffled a lot of audiences who would soon be thrilled by more mainstream fare such as Star Wars (1977), Alien (1979) and E.T. (1982), but unlike those films, this is much stranger affair that touches upon deeper themes of corporate greed, solitude and the passage of time.

Over the years it has become something of a cult classic and not just for Bowie fans.

Roeg’s trademark editing style and skill behind the camera is evident and DP Tony Richmond captures the beauty of the New Mexico locations.

Although rough around the edges as an actor, Bowie was perfectly cast as the enigmatic Newton and, living like a Howard Hughes-style recluse, he remains distant and ageless whilst bringing a touching sadness to his part.

Incidentally, Bowie was so taken with May Routh’s costumes that he used them on his subsequent tour and stills from the film would be used for the covers of his albums Station to Station (1976) and Low (1977).

The supporting performances are excellent: Henry brings a wistful quality to his lawyer role; Candy Clark makes for an engagingly innocent emotional partner to Bowie; and Rip Torn is good value as the academic who finds himself fascinated by the life opened up by his new boss.

Like much of Roeg’s work it is a film that repays repeated viewing, containing a lot thematic material to chew on beneath its stylish surface.

Momentous events happen in the background: Newton’s company becomes so big that it distorts the US economy and he becomes a major celebrity figure, but the primary focus is always kept on the individuals surrounding him.

Is he an alien Howard Hughes or Charles Foster Kane unhappy with his wealth and power? Do earthly pleasures corrupt him? Is he even an alien at all?

The enigmatic Newton personifies the film: he’s fascinating, mysterious and rewarding once you get to know him.

Part of what makes the film so effective is that we see 1970s America though alien eyes.

The corrupt business and political elites and the addictive qualities of television, alcohol and sex are things that affect the central characters.

Its effectiveness as a social satire lies in the way these themes are allowed to quietly brew in the background and they still have a resonance even today.

This subtlety is also present in the film’s approach to time as the chronological shifts gradually creep up on the viewer.

Like some of the characters, we are left a little disorientated as the years pass by, which is like the ageing process itself.

Modern viewers may note that one of Newton’s inventions is eerily similar to what would eventually become the modern digital camera.

This version is the longer 140 minute cut, with the more explicit – though never gratuitous – sex scenes that censorious US distributors trimmed.

This Blu-ray release is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1, and the transfer is excellent.


Whilst not as extensive as the now deleted 2008 Criterion Blu-ray, this version has a substantial amount of extras including:

  • Watching the Alien documentary (24:30): The most substantial feature is this making of documentary which includes interviews with Roeg, executive producer Si Litvinoff, actress Candy Clark, production designer Brian Eatwell, DP Tony Richmond and editor Graeme Clifford. Although Bowie’s absence is disappointing, it covers various interesting aspects of the production such as the all British crew (unusual for a film shot in the US), Bowie’s performance, the costumes, the non-linear style of editing, the use of music (the temp score used during the edit was Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon) and the legacy of the film.
  • Interview with director Nic Roeg (33:27): This lengthy interview sees Roeg discuss various issues related to the film including: how he ‘fell’ into his career in the film industry; the speed of technological change; how he came across the Walter Tevis novel and why the sci-fi genre appealed; the political relevance of the issues in the film and the casting of Bowie.
  • Interview with cinematographer Tony Richmond (21:48): The cinematographer talks about working with Roeg (he also shot Don’t Look Now and Bad Timing), the novel, shooting on location in New Mexico and the influence of the film.
  • Interview with screenwriter Paul Mayersberg (31:33): The writer goes in to some detail about how he got involved in the production; how he kept to the structure of the novel but changed various elements (such as the political subplot); trying to predict the futuristic gadgets Newton develops; the emotional triangle at the heart of the film; the theme of betrayal and playing around with the notion of time.
  • Interview with Candy Clark (27:46): The actress who plays Mary Lou talks about how she got introduced to Roeg by producer Si Litvinoff; the immediate appeal of the script; the physical challenges of the role; the significant differences between the novel and the film; and working with Bowie.
  • Radio interview with Walter Tevis from 1984 (4:08): The author of the novel talks on a New York radio show about his upbringing, how he got into writing, his first novel The Hustler (later made into the film starring Paul Newman) and how he only quit teaching in the late 1970s.
  • Theatrical Trailer (2:18): The original trailer comes in its original aspect ratio and plays up the fact that this was Bowie’s first film role and features a ridiculously heavy voiceover.

The Man Who Fell to Earth is released on Blu-ray by Optimum Home Releasing on Monday 4th April

> Buy The Man Who Fell to Earth on Blu-ray from Amazon UK
> IMDb entry
Criterion Collection essay by Graham Fuller