Bad Timing (1980 – Nicolas Roeg)


It’s the rewatch that kills you.  The first time around you get lost in the movie.  We’re absolutely wired for narrative so we crave it in everything we see (images in clouds, Jesus in toast) and movies suffer for this.  The first time we watch something we’re just obsessed with the “what happens next”; any director who moves away from narrative is labelled as “difficult”.  But the rewatch…when the narrative no longer matters…that’s when the movie gets you.

Because here, once you know what’s going to happen at the end, you’re just filled with a creeping sense of dread.  There is no goodness in the film anymore.

Bad Timing speaks to the way men treat women.  Like our non-narrative filmmakers, women are classed as “difficult”.  Men think women owe them something.  Alex Linden (played with sublime detachment by Art Garfunkel) only sees his patient, and his lover, as an object.  Something to be moulded and reformed, but never treated with respect.  This is the way that patriarchy infects you; it makes every decision loaded, every judgment has power and weight that it shouldn’t have.  Linden is after all a reprehensible human being, but his gender allows him a respect, that a quite ordinarily messy woman does not have.

Roeg looks towards a time when nationality will no longer be as distinctive as it once was.  We’re entering the ‘80s when capitalism (corrupt as it is, the best form of communication we as a species has created) will bring us all that little bit closer.  Americans (and a Brit) in Vienna.

Nobody knows a controlling personality better than a director.  Roeg dominates the investigation, juxtaposing tender caress (which we know to never be truly tender) with clinical investigation.  He edits as a liar – half truths here, obfuscation there.  If editing is the closest thing we have to memory, Bad Timing is a record of the lies we tell ourself, the way we rewrite, reframe, contextualise our existence.  Only here there is the bitter truth that this man is lying to frame himself as a hero – a saviour – and to justify his crime.  Lie to yourself enough times and you start to believe it’s true.

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