Bad Timing: A Sensual Obsession

Movie Information

In Brief: Brilliant filmmaking turns a fairly simple and utterly tawdry story into something approaching masterpiece status. Essentially, Bad Timing: A Sensual Obsession (1980) is the story of a "romance" that never should have happened between two people (played by Art Garfunkel and Theresa Russell) who never should have met. Nicolas Roeg — in his usual manner — presents the story as a nonlinear jigsaw puzzle of a movie where we can never be entirely sure when — or even if — we're seeing the truth. It's fairly unpleasant, but it's compelling.
Genre: Drama
Director: Nicolas Roeg (Don't Look Now)
Starring: Art Garfunkel, Theresa Russell, Harvey Keitel, Denholm Elliott, Daniel Massey, Dana Gillespie, William Hootkins
Rated: R

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,

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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5 thoughts on “Bad Timing: A Sensual Obsession

  1. Me

    I like Roeg and its been awhile since ive seen this one, but i remember really hating this one.

  2. Ken Hanke

    No, that’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf or The Lion in Winter. There’s a bit more to this than that. I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess you’ve never been trapped in a poisonous relationship?

  3. Me

    I liked Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, never seen The Lion of Winter. I remember thinking of the Garfunkel character, “dude just walk away, its not worth it”.

    “I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess you’ve never been trapped in a poisonous relationship?”

    No, not like that.

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