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Bad Timing
Drama, Mystery
IMDB rating:
Nicolas Roeg
Denholm Elliott as Stefan Vognic
Robert Walker as Konrad
Lex van Delden as Young Doctor
Stefan Gryff as Policeman #2
Sevilla Delofski as Czech Receptionist
Ania Marson as Dr. Schneider
George Roubicek as Policeman #1
Gertan Klauber as Ambulance Man
Art Garfunkel as Alex Linden
Daniel Massey as Foppish Man
Eugene Lipinski as Hospital policeman
Theresa Russell as Milena Flaherty
Harvey Keitel as Inspector Netusil
William Hootkins as Col. Taylor
Storyline: The setting is Vienna. A young American woman is brought to a hospital after overdosing on pills, apparently in a suicide attempt. A police detective suspects foul play on the part of her lover, an American psychology professor. As doctors try to save her life, the detective interrogates the professor, and through flashbacks we see the events leading up to the woman's overdose; her stormy and intensely sexual relationship with the professor, her heavy drinking and numerous affairs, and her estrangement from her Czech husband. A darkly erotic study of several rather unsympathetic characters.
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Nicolas Roeg delves into erotic obsession in this film, with surprising results…
His movie rates high in production value and acting and has an innovative approach to an old story…

The film is basically a character study… Alex (Art Garfunkel) is a depressingly dark and shadowy American psychoanalyst living in Vienna… Theresa Russell plays Milena, a resonant, carefree American girl… They meet by chance at a party and are thrown into a roller-coaster ride of an erotic relationship… He wants to smash her free spirit because he can't understand it, but she won't let him… The result is a near-fatal break-up…

Roeg comes close to the story from the middle (obeying Jean-Luc Godard's authoritative saying, a film "must have a beginning, a middle and an end, but not necessarily in that order." We quickly move to the different parts of Alex and Milena's relationship, moving through time as if it were Jell-O. The editing is intricate, but not confusing… As we change location back and forth, we begin to see more clearly how these two unlikely lovers ever got together…

The motion picture is filled with exceptional images, and Theresa Russell is outstanding…
intense work from forgotten master
Bad Timing is not an easy film, but one that rewards effort. Art Garfunkel joins the line (Jagger, Bowie) of singers who produced career best acting performances for this director - the scene of him smoking while staring over a bridge into the abyss of his life is worth buying the dvd alone - and Theresa Russell is simply incendiary. The story is a relatively simple one of how two people who should never have got together become obsessed with each other, but is told in Nicolas Roeg's fluid, labyrinthine style with flashes back and forward and disconcerting edits. The sexual content is extreme for some tastes, but raw and painfully honest in a way which defies simple titillation. Intense work from one of the giants of British and world cinema, now sadly neglected, and one of a string of great films, Performance, Walkabout, Don't Look Now and The Man Who Fell to Earth which mark Nicolas Roeg out as a great director.
Bad casting
Last night on the ABC I saw movie I've wanted to see for a long time – Nic Roeg's "Bad Timing". It's basically a doomed romance/sexual obsession flick, think "Betty Blue" for genre.

The good news is that it's quite entertaining, and it looks great, in spite of the fact that the broadcast version was a pitiful pan & scan presentation, whereas the original is apparently widescreen, which must be stunning. As in all Roeg's films, the editing is brilliant.

On the negative side, I'm sure that mine wouldn't be the first review entitled "Bad Casting". Art Garfunkle is hopeless in this role. It's not so much his acting, but his appearance and thin whiny voice makes it difficult to believe that a hottie like Theresa Russell would fall for him. Russell's performance, however, is sensational.

The third lead, Harvey Keitel, is good as the detective, although the principals' complete disregard for appropriate accents meant that I didn't realise for quite a while that the film is actually set in Vienna.

Similarly, I was very surprised to find that the film was made in 1980 – I would have pegged it at about the same time as "Performance" and "Walkabout" (i.e. circa 1970). In part this might be due to the fact that the film might hold the world record for the number of cigarettes smoked on film. When Theresa Russell receives a tracheotomy, I half-expected the doctors to stick a smoke in her tube!
a well-accomplished, counter-cultural, innately candid examination on modern relationship and sex philosophy
Nicolas Roeg's little-circulated relationship dissertation between an American psychiatrist Alex Linden (Garfunkel) and a young American woman Milena (Russell) in Cold War Vienna has an uncanny and scandalizing paralleled real life happening befalls on its leading actor Art Garfunkel.

After its glittering opening sequences of a Gustav Klimt's exhibition, the film starts with an unconscious Milena rushed to the hospital in the middle of the night accompanied by Alex in the ambulance, ostensibly from an overdose, and in reality, during the film's shooting, Garfunkel's then girlfriend Laurie Bird, committed suicide by taking an overdose of Valium in New York, aged 26.

With that hindsight, one is prone to understand Garfunkel's sometimes perversely surly and tangibly perturbed state when facing off with either a barnstorming Russell or a probing Harvey Keitel, who plays Inspector Netusil, exerts himself in teasing out the truth out of a buttoned-up Alex, as the film's title refers, the timing of Alex's recount about the incident doesn't comply with the physical facts (car radio, Milena's state, etc.).

Predominantly, Roeg expertly expounds Alex and Milena's torrid affair by punctuating its aftermath story-line with stacks of flashback in a random arrangement, from the starting point when Milena says farewell to her much older Czech husband Stefan Vognic (Elliott) in the Czech/Austria border, to the pair's encounter, dating, a Northern Africa vacation (prompts Alex's proposal of marriage), to the toxic disintegration due to their incongruity (Lüscher's color test Vs. Paul Bowles' The Sheltering Sky, are the obvious visual pointers). It seems that it is Alex who breaches his work ethic to strike the romance with his client in the first place, then we are repeatedly subjected to the disappointment of Alex's incompetency of his own profession, his botched attempt to understand a freewheeling Milena's psychological status, which can be encapsulated in one sentence (I'm paraphrasing here) "to love a woman tremendously, to love her more than one's own dignity", a pitfall hounds most men in our patriarchal society. But meanwhile, Roeg and screenwriter Yale Udoff also show up the mercurial side of Milena's persona, she professes to be a free-spirited soul, morally unattached, physically liberated, but more often than not, she is the one who backslides into pestering Alex after their breakup, which trenchantly confounds that very statement. It is a self-destructive game which takes two to tango, a woman's congenital insecurity meets a man's unrelieved self-regard, that's what Roeg rams home to us albeit his very distracting M.O.

Honestly, it is a mind-bending journey, strewn with zeitgeist reflecting tunes (Billie Holiday, Tom Waits, The Who and counting), where the two leads engaging in graphic sexual acts (and they are nowhere near aesthetically pretty), or exchanging their thoughts in soft-focus treatment. Meantime, the apparently persisting investigation from Netusil, eventually reaches its lurid conclusion without ever sweetening the pills, it nails the psychological nitty-gritty in the face of its morally repugnant revelation.

BAD TIMING, a pertinent name for its own ill-fated reception upon its release, is a well- accomplished, counter-cultural, innately honest examination on the caprice, intransigence, and ambivalence of modern relationship and sex philosophy, powered by strong performances, in particular, a spontaneously ravishing Theresa Russell.
Never great, often excruciating
I will admit that Bad Timing is well directed by Nicolas Roeg, a master of visuals - from his cinematography of The Masque of the Red Death (1964) to the enchanting Walkabout (1970). The use of music is effective if not as good, I suspect, as it could have been . The film falls down in three areas: the script, the acting and the length. The script is repetetive, often incoherent and tends towards the insular and melodramatic. The theme of relationships is done to death: there is no hinterland, just a monotonous unpersuasive intensity. The acting is a mixture. Not enough is made of Harvey Keitel and Denholm Elliott's talents. The crucial part is handed to Art Garfunkel, who, while not awful, is barely adequate. What was Roeg thinking there? Theresa Russell, however, gives one of her finest performances as an unstable woman. Where the film finally fails is in the way it drags on and on, with no real point and certainly few memorable scenes. The viewer is battered into submission by the repetitive, droning unsavouryness of it all. Not by any stretch of the imagination an enjoyable film. Rating:- ** 1/2 (out of *****)
my kind of relationship drama- and I am NOT a sick person! I think...
Bad Timing is Nicholas Roeg's film about a relationship that is fueled by an obsessive passion, more or less, on both sides, and ends in a kind of mutual destruction. This has been fodder for many an independent film, but Roeg and his screenwriter attempt the material with a twist (Roeg, perhaps in his own distinct sensibility as an auteur, more-so). They're attempting to dissect it by a manner that goes along with how a mind works through a relationship after the fact, through memories of what worked, what didn't at all, what's foggy, what's crazy, subtle bits that connect more directly to others, and essentially reveals as much as any one person can think about the individuals in their link. Throw in a little detective/criminal mystery entanglement, some trademark Roeg editing and narrative technique, and sprinkle some of the most appropriately steamy (and appropriately disturbing) mature sexual context in a movie since Last Tango, and you've got a sort of cult classic.

It's the kind of work that, as someone who loves getting a filmmaker who approaches things from a skewed perspective almost like an intellectual, is nearly inspiring. I didn't gain mind-blowing Bergmanesque insights into the realm of a torn relationship, but it's enough to squash competition that might show up late at night on IFC. It deals with a psychology professor, Alex Linden (Art Garfunkel, the most unlikely of male leads for a sexually charged and complex individual, but out-does his previous turn in Carnal Knowledge as a subtle performer of a man in total emotional crisis), and his romance with young Milena (the extraordinary Theresa Russel, arguably her best performance to date, soul pouring out like it's her one and only chance to shine), who is possibly already married to a much older man across the Vienna border (Denhalm Elliot, great in his few scenes).

They have powerful lust and some good times, even in Morocco of all places, but... they just don't click, due to Alex not being able to let go of what Milena does, almost in a "every breath you take" style (watch as the Who's "Who Are You" is used in the most stirring effect imaginable). Without saying too much, something terrible happens to Milena, a hospital stay occurs, and an investigation (overnight, of course) happens between a detective (long-haired Harvey Keitel, compelling even when it's only in the smallest, two-note spurts) which leads to a test of pure existential upheaval. But Roeg firstly approaches the style like it's a shuffleboard of images and scenes, moods and thoughts, and it's a wonderful experiment in subjective approach. Many post-modern filmmakers only wish to try and make a film dealing with genre (i.e. crime/gangsters) like this, but Roeg does it sometimes subliminally, cut-aways implying sexual interaction and obsession that go the opposite way of the pondering style of a Last Tango (i.e. the operation scene, a cut-away between a tense gynecological exam during surgery and sex).

The other thing that Roeg wisely does, as he did do sort of in Walkabout, is to let the actors play up to their strengths. While it was trickier to to as a director, and to actually notice in the finished product, in Walkabout, in Bad Timing there are countless scenes where we see the actors tapping into the characters full-throttle, and revealing little layers in the script that wouldn't be present in a more conventional treatment. It's simple to say this kind of material would get shut out at the door in Hollywood. Sure it would; it's a tale where lurid details (and truly disturbing ones, more-so for how they linger in the mind than how they're shown) seem to mask the more vulnerable shades of the story. But it's difficult to say that it might have more appeal than the one infamous quote "a sick movie made by sick people for sick people" seems to suggest.

It is rough going at times, and not your grandmother's story of love gone awry. But it challenges perceptions and tries to pierce through certain concepts of what men expect from women and women expect from men: the lies, the hiding, being open, being free, being who we are in front of one another. At the end, what is the "bond" in a relationship? Do we know one another really? Roeg leaves it up to us to decide... in his sick way. And it's one of my favorites of 1980.
earlier (and better) than Basic Instinct
Without being a masterpiece this is a surprisingly good film in its genre, and one of the first taking into account that it was made in 1980 and it may be considered one of the fist erotic thrillers. The story of an attempted suicide of a woman (Theresa Russell) and the following investigation where his boyfriend (Art Garfunkel) faces the suspicion of an obsessed detective (Harvey Keitel) is set in a Vienna filmed with taste and style and told in a non-chronological manner that builds the story in an a series of interleaved present and flashback scenes. The best parts of the movie are these where the actors are left to rather freely build the relationship of lust and mis-communication between Russell and Garfunkel, and the suspicion mind-game between Garfunkel and Keitel. Less convincing is the plot itself, it looks like after setting the story and putting the characters in motion the director and script writer did not really know how to end it at the level of interest they succeeded to build. Garfunkel itself in the middle of the story looks a little uncertain, this is by far his most important role on screen but his lack of confidence fits well a character who is supposed to look like he cannot make his mind in a relationship. Although this film came a little too early it set the rules and establish the ground for a niche genre that has developed a few years after it, and despite the aging of some gadgets and equipment and the intense smoking that looks now so outdated :-) by its characters it does not look too tired or rusty, quite the opposite. Actually if I am to compare it with Basic Instinct (certainly with the second one, but maybe also with the first) Bad Timing is a better movie.
Intriguing and underrated
I first became aware of this film a few weeks ago, when IFC was doing an "IFZ weekend" homage to Z Channel (watch the documentary if you get a chance). Anyway, they showed the film a few times, but something always interrupted me from seeing it all the way through. So I bought the DVD from eBay and watched it in its entirety--I HAD to know what happened. WOW! My heart was pounding like a jackhammer during the denouement, and I was absolutely blown away by the film as a whole. It certainly demands multiple viewings, as I finally was able to piece things together that I had not before. I'm sure if I watch it again I'll catch even more subtlety. The character studies are fascinating, and Garfunkel and Russell are just stunning. It's a story that anyone that has been in a messed up relationship (hello, who HASN'T?!)can relate to--especially unrequited first love/obsession.
Roeg's forgotten masterwork
When BAD TIMING: A SENSUAL OBSESSION emerged in 1980, its distributor dropped it like a hot potato. Sex! Surgery! Semen stains! Strippers rolling around on meshy overwire! It was all too much for the Rank Organization, a fading production empire with a long history of releasing family classics like GREAT EXPECTATIONS. (Curiously, Rank did sponsor a 'Win a trip to Vienna, location of BAD TIMING!' publicity contest at early bookings). The only reason they financed the picture, allegedly, was for its Freudian-tinged pedigree. When they saw the finished product, they labeled it 'a film about sick people, made by sick people, for sick people.'

Deviant psychology is but one of the many twisted pleasures in this tragically neglected masterpiece from '70s visionary Nicolas Roeg. With iconoclastic films like WALKABOUT, DON'T LOOK NOW and MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH, Roeg pioneered a new kind of film language. He replaced traditional narrative storytelling with stunning photography, explicit carnality and a signature editing style of jump cuts, cross cuts and subliminal flicker cuts Mixmastered into a mosaic of multiple interpretations. (Unlike today's A.D.D.-inducing overkill, Roeg's fragmentary cutting technique always provided insight into character psychology.) To those of us weaned on art cinema in the '70s and energized by the limitless possibilities of the medium, Nicolas Roeg was (and remains) a god. No filmmaker since has picked up the maverick torch that this deity carried for more than a decade.

Trying to encapsulate BAD TIMING's nuanced, character-driven plot is like describing Europe in a postcard. Essentially, it's about an eroticized interpersonal attraction that goes horribly awry, spiraling into jealousy, paranoia and (of course) sexual obsession. Theresa Russell's wild child Milena (the personification of Henry James' headstrong American girl abroad) is compulsively drawn to a fellow Yank stationed in Austria -- the buttoned-down, Freudian shrink/visiting prof Dr. Linden. Their passionate affair has led to a potentially tragic outcome, and it's up to a local police inspector (Harvey Keitel) to sort out what went wrong, why, and whether criminal malice was involved.

What makes this relationship drama so compelling is Roeg's structure: the film starts in the middle, jumps ahead to the end, then back to the prologue within the first four minutes – and continues in a non-linear fashion until the final shot. It takes us viewers a while to get our bearing, but it also elicits our rapt attention to detail. Never are we certain if the cascading flashbacks are meant to be objective on the filmmaker's part, or the skewed perspective of one of the three main characters. Is Russell a victim, or a tramp? Is Garfunkel a creep, or is that just Keitel's projection? Is Keitel a sympathetic doppelganger, or a crafty manipulator? The stars turn in complex, though off-center performances. Keitel turns miscasting to his advantage; never has he underplayed 'menacing' like he does here. Garfunkel's lack of charisma will turn many viewers off, but he's 100% believable as a shrewd, unstable shrink. Yet it's Russell who's the revelation – those who subscribe to the lazy theory that she can't act will be astonished here. What she may lack in formal technique, she compensates with fearless commitment. Hers may be the most passionate performance by a 21-year old ever captured on film.

Tony Richmond's widescreen photography is particularly rich in color and composition (the film's look was based on the art of Gustav Klimt). He shows us a Vienna that's cold, academic, clinical – but electric whenever Russell's on screen. There's a sequence in a university courtyard where he changes lenses, practically from shot to shot, to convey Russell's emotional collapse. (In the background, Keith Jarrett's 'Köln Concert' mourns her sad dilemma.) It's a heartbreaking passage, poetically surpassed only by the connecting shot of Garfunkel brooding through a polarized car windshield at daybreak. Frequently Richmond balances the stars' close-ups on the very edge of the screen, which is why the film's power is neutered on cable TV, where 2/3 of the image is lopped off. In that pan-and-scan atrocity, the screen is forever hovering on backgrounds and earlobes.

The real tragedy is that BAD TIMING has never been released on any home video format, and I fear it may never happen. It was made at a time when music licenses weren't automatically cleared for home viewing. Considering the eclectic soundtrack incorporates Jarrett, Tom Waits, The Who, Billie Holiday, Harry Partch and others, the idea of renegotiating deals at this point would be any lawyer's nightmare. Even worse, Roeg himself believes the few prints that Rank struck are probably lost or damaged beyond repair, and one fears for the state of the negative. My overlong, effusive review here is a direct plea for a rescue operation. Is any entrepreneurial DVD-releasing outfit willing to salvage this forgotten treasure from obscurity and give it the best letterboxed release possible? Once people are able to see this film as it was intended – for the first time in 24 years or more – I believe its reputation will grow immeasurably. There is simply no other film like it, and, based on current popular trends, nor will there ever be.
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