One of the most difficult and challenging puzzles in filmmaking
is to tell a story in flashback, and it is a test that Nicolas Roeg fails in
his new film, "Bad Timing."
That's a little surprising, since Roeg has proven himself a master of
labyrinthine story lines in such movies as "Don't Look Now" and
"Performance." Those films, though, had a reason for being told out
of chronological sequence—particularly "Don't Look Now," which was
about precognition and so, of course, contained events that
"happened" before they happened.
"Bad Timing," though, it's hard to say why Roeg decided to begin at
the end and jump around in chronology. The movie contains no revelations that
look different the second time around, and so the editing seems merely fancy
footwork, or Roeg showing us that he had done this before and can do it again.
other possible motive for the extremely complex editing in "Bad
Timing" may be Roeg's desire to camouflage the fact that his story would
be thin and his characters shallow if they were just seen straight through from
beginning to end.
movie is about a relationship between two Americans who meet in Vienna. Why
Vienna? Why not Vienna? Art Garfunkel plays a psychoanalyst and Theresa Russell
plays a sexually uninhibited young woman who is an alcoholic and pill addict.
Garfunkel, however, does not see her as a sick person, but as an exciting
conquest. Although the audience can see that she's clearly in desperate
physical and mental trouble, Garfunkel's analyst takes advantage of her
confusion to move in and establish a sexual relationship.
not, mind you, that she objects to sleeping with him. Indeed, she makes the
first overture at a party. It's just that the kind of man who would sleep with
a woman in that condition (especially if his professional training equipped him
to understand her condition) would qualify as an insect. Perhaps the blame is
not entirely the analyst's: Nothing in this movie indicates that Roeg has any
particular understanding of the fact that his heroine is desperately ill.
that may be where the film's troubles begin. I suspect that this particular
story cannot be told straight through, from beginning to end, without dealing
honestly with the nature of the relationship. Since Roeg is unwilling, unable
or unequipped to do that, he hides the relationship in a thicket of stylistic
favorite editing device is to flashback repeatedly to a tracheotomy that
Russell undergoes after nearly killing herself with an overdose. The doctors
cut open her throat and pound on her chest and she screams and bleeds, and this
makes great footage for Roeg to cut to whenever his film requires an emotional
jolt and he can't supply one.
is also a "mystery" in the film, and a police inspector (Harvey
Keitel) to shadow Garfunkel and try to solve it. The film's most annoying
blunder is the way it gradually unveils the solution of the mystery to us. We
see one version of Russell's overdose episode, and then another and another,
each one showing us a little more, until we find at the end that Garfunkel
(gasp!) made love to her when he should have been calling an ambulance for her,
movie makes this out as near-necrophilia. I make it out as the sort of thing
that can happen to you if your keep on taking your chances in singles bars.
Timing" is finally just an exercise in telling a shallow and crude story
in a sophisticated and complicated way. Who needs it? This film has been
praised for its honesty, but it would have taken far more honesty (not to
mention courage) to deal with the personality disorders of these characters
instead of simply burying them in blood, sex, and noise. If there is any reason
to see this film, however, it is the performance by Theresa Russell (who was
Dustin Hoffman's lover in "Straight Time"). She is only 22 or 23, and
yet her performance is astonishingly powerful. She will be in better films, I
hope, and is the only participant who need not be ashamed of this one.