Despite the fact that not long ago some poll or other (it’s impossible to keep up with these things anymore) idiotically concluded that Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now (1973) was “the greatest British film ever made” (take that Michael Powell, Carol Reed, Alfred Hitchcock, David Lean, Richard Lester and Ken Russell), Roeg is just not a filmmaker much in favor these days. It’s hard to imagine now, but back in 1980 when Bad Timing: A Sensual Obsession came out it was a very big deal. The film was the talk of the film publications of the era. Not only was it Roeg’s first film since The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976), but it was the film widely perceived as the best shot to finally make Art Garfunkel a movie star. (After all, Roeg had gotten miraculous performances out of Mick Jagger and David Bowie.)
And then came the film itself—a grimly unpleasant story about two unlikable people in a bad relationship, all built around the question of whether or not the woman (Theresa Russell) will survive a suicide attempt that the man (Garfunkel) may or may not bear some responsibility. It’s essentially a deeply trashy story—one ultimately boasting a pretty high “ick” factor—made into an interesting cinematic experience by Roeg’s approach to the material in a non-linear manner as a kind of jigsaw puzzle where the line between truth and unreliable memory is blurred. Though hardly original to Roeg, it was the filmmaker’s favored approach. Interestingly, it originated with Richard Lester—most notably with Petulia (1968), a film that Roeg was the cinematographer on. (This can hardly be coincidental.) Bad Timing was never going to be a hit—it’s amazing anyone ever thought it might be—but it remains one of the most fascinating works of a generally underrated filmmaker.
Classic World Cinema by Courtyard Gallery will present Bad Timing: A Sensual Obsession Friday, Dec. 13, at 8 p.m. at Phil Mechanic Studios, 109 Roberts St., River Arts District (upstairs in the Railroad Library). Info: 273-3332, www.ashevillecourtyard.com.