BFI Film Classics: Don’t Look Now

Author: Mark Sanderson

One film definitely worth a book in the BFI Modern Classics range is Don’t Look Now. Released in 1973, the same year as The Exorcist, it’s a supernatural thriller that, as the book’s writer Mark Sanderson rightly confers, is up there as one of the all time cult films. It was directed by Nicholas Roeg, a director whose films almost all deserve that status: Performance (1970), Walkabout (1971) and The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976) pretty much defined the cult film in the seventies; they all have a unique strangeness and depth to them that are worthy of analysis. He begins his introduction by taking us through its influences, such as the atmospheric wintry Venice scenes with pigeons flying across the screen (anyone who has ever been to Venice will know what I mean) to films such as the ghost story Haunted (1995) starring Aidan Quinn.

Based on a book by Daphne du Maurier, Sanderson acknowledges du Maurier’s satisfaction with the film and goes through its  production including the impressions and pre-conceptions that the actors, Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie had.  He includes detailed shot-by-shot analysis of the disturbing opening moments in which Christie and Sutherland’s daughter drowns in perhaps one of the best establishing openings to any movie through to the finale death of Sutherland at the hands of the serial killer dwarf, who wears a similar red plastic raincoat to the one his daughter drowned in.He also explores the now famous and at the time controversial love making scene. This is where a book like this brings out those subtleties that we might miss: the church Sutherland’s character is restoring is called St. Nicholas, the serial killer dwarf wearing a red hooded coat – St. Nicholas (otherwise known as Santa Claus) is also the patron saint of children which Roeg employs here with a witty black humour.

The film itself is about the grief the couple experience following the death of their daughter, Sutherland’s denial of his psychic abilities and premonitions, and how this ultimately leads to his death. Throughout the book Sanderson analyses how the colours and symbols Roeg employs in each scene have such a dramatic effect on the strangeness of the film, giving it its particularly haunting quality. The last chapter of the book also has an interview with Roeg as he recalls the difficulties of filming, how he cast Aledina Poeiro as the killer dwarf, one of the most terrifying monsters in cinematic history, as well as what happened when he and Christie attended a séance.

Chris Hick

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