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Sometimes facing films that are considered some of film history's greatest classics can be a daunting task when trying to be objective. Of course, coming to face these films with little prior knowledge of them helps a great deal, the reaction which you can then contrast to their relevant fame that in the best of instances can make you gain further appreciation as to what you had just seen, or then come out feeling like the movie was simply overrated hogwash. That's not to say that I can't make up my own mind whether a film was great just because everybody else says so, but it can at least sway for a more positive opinion down the line. Nicolas Roeg's 1973 "Don't Look Now" for me sways more toward the latter category of good, but not quite as tremendous as most everybody says it is. John and Laura Baxter (Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie) are in Venice recovering from the death of their young daughter through drowning, when they come across two elderly sisters - with one of them being blind and apparently psychic. The visions that the blind lady imparts to Laura makes her obsessed with thinking that their daughter may still exist in some form (perhaps not physically, but at least spiritually), and the ensuing fallout of this lends itself to a mystery that threatens the sanity of both - particularly John as he starts having both memory flashes of his daughter, as well as visions of a red-clothed figure running around the claustrophobic alleyways of Venice that may or may not be his daughter. And when his wife needs to travel back to England, the mystery only deepens when he chances to spot her on a funeral boat with the two elderly sisters and then disappears, making him think she's been abducted to unexplained nefarious ends.
Based on the book of Daphne Du Maurier, this thriller, filled with symbolism and little gestures that end up playing an important part in the unfolding story, makes good use of its location shooting and the little titbits of half-seen suggestions that you're never quite sure what they mean until everything gets tied up in the end, but which are also carried out with such subtlety and spacing that the overall effect gets somewhat diluted as a result. Many have mentioned the movie's great sense of atmosphere and how scary the film is, but personally the film rarely really pulled me into that zone of complete absorption and not once was I scared of anything (then again, "The Exorcist," often touted as the scariest movie ever made, never even rose a single goose pimple on my skin). This is much more of a psychological thriller than it is a horror story, despite the occasional supernatural element, and that is what I appreciate more with it than the "scary" movie it likely wasn't supposed to even be to begin with. Likewise the film is very slow to start and doesn't really fully come alive until the last third, while the harshly recorded sound world is often grating to an annoying extent, right down to the music that seems to have been recorded on an Edison phonograph. Ultimately, "Don't Look Now" has intriguing elements to it, but doesn't quite achieve that level of immersion necessary to truly engage. Generally good performances from the leads, fine cinematography from Anthony Richmond, and a shocking connection to a murder spree carried out in the story's periphery vision help make this still a film to watch, if not unanimously praised. (c) berlioz 2014
RELEASED: 1973, Cert.15
RUNNING TIME: Approx. 110 mins
DIRECTOR: Nicholas Roeg
PRODUCER: Peter Katz
SCREENPLAY: Allan Scott & Chris Bryant
MUSIC: Pino Donnagio
Donald Sutherland as John Baxter
Julie Christie as Laura Baxter
Hilary Mason as Heather
Clelia Matania as Wendy
FILM ONLY REVIEW
Don't Look Now is a film adaptation of a Daphne du Maurier short story, which bears the same title.
After the accidental drowning of their little daughter, John and Laura Baxter spend some time in Venice. John's occupation is a church restorer, and he has been contracted to make some repairs to an ancient church in the city.
During their stay in Venice, John and Laura meet Heather and Wendy who are two rather strange elderly sisters. Heather, who is blind and claims to be psychic, tells Laura and John that she can 'see' their dead little girl, even describing how she died and what she looks like, advising that the spirit of the child is there with her parents and is very happy on the 'other side'. Laura takes comfort in Heather's affirmations, but John is cynical, viewing the two elderly ladies as batty at best and dangerous at worst.
The following day and whilst John is working at the church, Laura visits Heather and Wendy and a séance takes place during which Heather manages to make 'contact' with Laura and John's dead little girl, then becomes very distressed when she realises that the child is issuing a warning to her parents in that whilst they remain in Venice, John's life is in danger.
Meanwhile and after Laura has to travel back to London to visit their son who incurred a slight injury whilst at boarding school, John sees strange things in the streets, waterways and alleys of Venice....also, there is a serial killer on the loose!
That just about sets the basic scene, and as per usual, you must watch it for yourself to find out what happens.
The beginning part of the movie is very atmospheric, perfectly setting the mood for what is to follow. Some of the filming techniques, such as John and Laura's little girl lying face down dead in a stream after falling whilst trying to retrieve a ball she'd dropped into the water, are quite chilling. Donald Sutherland's acting is also superb as the terrified father who back in the house senses that something has gone wrong, turning frantic with anguish on discovering the body of his daughter in the stream, grief and despair exploding out of him as his efforts to resuscitate the child are to no avail.
During John and Laura's time in Italy, there is a rather tense, strange atmosphere present in the film whereby it comes across to me that everything they do and say is steeped in a kind of grief-stricken resignation, as if they are both trying very hard to get on with their lives and appear normal, yet not too far below the surface each one is grieving so badly that they aren't really connecting properly with one another. This begins to shift in perspective once Laura makes friends with Heather and Wendy.
Throughout the rest of the film, Donald Sutherland's acting remains excellent, yet I wasn't overly impressed with Julie Christie's performance as Laura. It isn't that I can point a finger of criticism and pick out anything specific which I'd describe as bad about her performance...just that for me, it overall lacked a certain substance which I'd like to have seen present as I feel such would have sharpened up the blunt edges of the film quite considerably.
Hilary Mason and Clelia Matania as Heather and Wendy respectively, both gave deliciously creepy performances as the rather odd elderly sisters, yet although I believe the viewer is perhaps intended to perceive blind psychic Heather as the spooky one, for me it's actually Wendy who delivers the chills in not a sinister way....more that there appears to be an aura of control and domination emanating from her personality that I find borderline scary.
I didn't notice some parts of the musical score, yet other parts of it were befitting to the atmosphere of off to the side spooky happenings in the back alleys of the city of canals in winter.
There are some very interesting photography techniques used in Don't Look Now which may not immediately appear unusual or stunning, but the visual aspects of the film are moody, broody and tense, mingling with an underlying atmosphere of gloom and doom. There are some lovely shots of canal and street life in Venice that sharply contrast with the eeriness of the creepy narrow back alleys.
The levels of suspense build up nicely as the film progresses, but it does lose me a little here and there as although I can understand what's happening during certain parts, I'm not too sure why, and that serves to fudge my comprehension more than I'm comfortable with. It's not easy for me to explain further, as to do so would create a spoiler.
When I very first saw Don't Look Now at the cinema back in 1973, I seem to remember it having quite a powerful effect upon me, as I found the spook factor pretty high, but now in time it doesn't come across to me as all that scary really. The reason for that quite likely is because I've seen so very many psychological thrillers since my first viewing of Don't Look Now which are far more graphic and disturbing. However, in its day, Don't Look Now was a major chiller - I stress definitely not a horror film...simply a rather cleverly put together psychological thriller.
On a lighter note, one thing now in 2011 does amuse me slightly about this film...that being the sex scene which occurs a little before the halfway mark. By today's standards it is almost laughably tame, yet back in 1973 it was considered extremely graphic. With hindsight, I can say that most films aimed at an adult audience (Don't Look Now carried an X rating in 1973) had what I refer to as an almost obligatory token sex scene, regardless of its relevance to the storyline. Using my 2011 sense of life, the universe and everything, I feel that the sex scene in Don't Look Now is both tame and unnecessary, it being put into the film simply because that's how things were in the early 1970s...a kind of a cinematic assertation that all things carnal aren't necessarily lewd, crude, rude, only being talked about (if at all) in hushed tones.
All in all, Don't Look Now still stands up proud as decent, intelligent mystery/psychological thriller which although not subtle exactly, is less in your face than some more recent productions of a similar nature. I feel it is still a worthwhile classic movie that to this day remains extremely watchable and, albeit only a tad creepily, one of those gems of genius which graced our cinema screens during the 1970s.
At the time of writing, Don't Look Now can be purchased from Amazon as follows:-
New: from £7.00 to £29.99
Used: from 15p to £5.80
Collectible: One copy only available at £5.99
A delivery charge of £1.26 should be added to the above figures.
Thanks for reading!
~~ Also published on Ciao under my CelticSoulSister user name ~~
When John and Laura Baxter's daughter Christine drowns in the pond near their house, they move to Venice to get away and so John can continue restoring an old church, contracted as an architect by a Venetian bishop. A chance encounter with two elderly sisters leads to one of them, a blind clairvoyant, announcing that she can still see Christine, and that she's happy. Keen to try anything to cope with her grief, Laura latches on to this and wants to know more, while John rejects this supernatural explanation and delves even further into his grief.
It's hard to put a pin in a map of themes and focuses for this film, to nail it down to exactly what it looks at closest, but what is very clear is that this is a psychological chiller that digs into human emotions and beliefs through the hardest of all emotions to cope with: grief. I can only imagine the devastation and emptiness that losing a child can result in, nor do I want to think about it. From the opening scene, director Nicolas Roeg ensures a link between the parents and the lost child, with Christine's falling into the pool and her brother cycling nearby mirrored by John's actions inside the house.
It's from this early stage that the colour red starts to play a huge part in the film. Roeg paints largely miserable settings, both in the murky pond at the beginning with the tragic event, and also with the autumnal Venice: clouds overhead, battered buildings, dirty Venetian water, misty and darkened back streets. Red is a very vivid and noticeable colour against such a backdrop, and is used from the very first moment. Christine is wearing a bright red mac when she drowns, and Roeg uses red wine, a red candle, red shadows, rust red pipes, red scarves and various other items to indicate something bad is about to happen in the film. Roeg almost has an obsession with the colour, and comes close to using it too much, but with such a depressing colour system in place for the rest of the film, each time red appears it's very vivid and switches you on instantly. Perhaps the most telling thing is John's occasional sighting of a childlike figure disappearing around corners wearing a mac exactly the same as Christine.
It's events such as this as well as the sisters declaring that John has the gift of second sight that makes him start to think he's going mad. He starts the Venetian part of the film in higher spirits than Laura, but these roles slowly switch round until he's the one who seems to be going nuts. Donald Sutherland plays John excellently, providing just the right amount of presence on screen and delayed reactions when necessary to show there is thought behind every action John takes, that he is trying to rationalise everything going on. His relationship with Laura is on tenterhooks following Christine's death, and you can see both of them trying to live together while dealing with her loss separately. Sutherland's big eyes really help here, and he sets the standard for himself very high after an excellent opening scene where he drags his drowned daughter from the pond, bright red mac the most visual blot on a devastating scene coupled with howls of gried that stay with you throughout the film.
We don't see Laura's grief save for one brief shriek when she sees John holding Christine, and this sets Julie Christie up to develop this element of Laura's character as she plays the role with her natural beauty and innocent, polite and gentle voice. At times, Sutherland's charming and gruff drawl is completely contrasted by the almost annoying VERY British insistence of Christie when she, as Laura, tries to tell him that the sisters have said Christine is happy beyond the grave. They don't come to blows, but they almost blow up at each other and you can see the obvious tension there. Christie slowly brings Laura towards a person who can cope with the grief, allowing for the fact there will always be the hole left, but seeking to find ways to cope with it and fill her life with other things. It's interesting how John is the one who seems so calm and accepting at the beginning but whose grief slowly starts to overcome him.
Running alongside this grief and interpersonal element is the sinister approach to the film that Roeg takes. While we see some great acting from Sutherland and Christie, and it certainly helps add to the atmosphere, a lot of the tension in the film is created by the director getting the characters to not only move around but also to never really let us know who is trustworthy and who isn't. Every character other than the lead pair are given a couple of close up shots where the camera zooms in almost uncontrollably on their guilty looking faces, and this has the effect that we're not sure what they're up to. This includes the bishop contracting work out to John, the two elderly sisters, and the police chief once John needs help for something strange he spots.
This sinister element is helped immensely by giving us a Venice that is rocked by a series of seemingly related murders that are never hugely focused on, just mentioned regularly. We even get to see one body being pulled out of the water, a reminder to John and Laura of their loss. Roeg reminds us, too, by giving us occasional brief glimpses of Christine's body, or rather her bright red mac! It seems strange that they chose Venice, knowing that they'd be surrounded by water and constantly reminded of what happened, as if they needed any more reminding. On a note regarding the supposed serial killer, it really does become one of the scariest elements of a film I've ever seen, and this is not in a pure horror element, but more in the sinister and unrevealing sense, with Roeg making sure that horror is no gadget here, merely a by product of the plot and circumstances.
In fact, the 'horror' tag that the film is given has a few elements contributing to it, none less powerful than the supernatural notions provided by the two sisters, Wendy and Heather. These two exude as much trustworthiness as the worst characters in the film, the occasional look and the seeming obsession with Christine leading us to think that they're half trying to scare Laura into joining some sort of cult as opposed to helping her deal with her grief. These two characters are acted very well, to the point where they're memorable way after you've finished watching, in a very eerie way. John instantly turns his back on such a preposterous theory of seeing beyond the grave, despite warnings that staying in Venice will cause even more tragedy to happen.
One such scene that makes John think they weren't actually talking a load of rubbish comes when he is working high up on scaffolding within the church he's restoring, a tense scene with tumbling brickwork and planks that seems heavily dangerous - you genuinely don't know whether anyone's going to get hurt or not. This brings me to the beautiful settings Roeg has used. Venice is a beautiful city, and although the film's focus is on the darker and more sinister elements of it, the director has still made sure we can appreciate the loveliness of no traffic, umpteen bridges and the marvel of passages galore. He has added the beauty of old buildings, in particular the church, along with its mosaics and gargoyles (one of which has a cheeky tongue sticking out that almost seems to mock John, and could be seen as another warning). Roeg dwells a little after a few scenes, showing a reality you may not get with other films that switch too quickly from scene to scene, not allowing the full force of each one before going to the next. This gives you a chance to appreciate the patient beauty of ancient buildings and a picturesque city.
Roeg couples this with some clever camera work. I have already mentioned the occasional close ups that removes trust towards nearly every character other than the two leads, but there's clever use of style and angle throughout the film. Numerous scenes follow our characters through the streets of Venice, and with few moving cameras and less technology available in the early 70s, much reliance is placed on more than one camera being used for a sequence of paths, or filming the same scene but from different angles. I imagine some of the actors would have had to go through the same motions a few times, but it never shows. The zooming and panning, as well as the subjective angles as if someone's being followed, as well as the occasional flashbacks and visions from characters' memories remind me strongly of Dario Argento's work, mainly The Bird With The Crystal Plumage, more so than Suspiria perhaps.
Similarly, there are scenes where there are frantic movements throughout the streets, and the patience and atmosphere here is provided by letting us see only fractions of where people are going, flicking from character to character, and this reminded me very much of M, where Peter Lorre races around the streets of a German city trying to evade his pursuers, Fritz Lang's patient directing almost hanging over him like a puppetmaster, as Roeg does here, although Roeg is more like a pursuer who keeps teleporting from one place to another, more closeups than Lang.
Littered throughout is a repetitive and therefore effective score from Pino Donaggio. I looked for him in the credits, as I was hugely impressed the musical application through the film. Usually, this is limited to greats such as John Williams and Ennio Morricone for me, but in this case I was keen to find out who had scored this film, so effective was the music in creating a lot of the atmosphere for the film, particularly in the misty night scenes where you find your nails are bitten to the quick without even realising they've been anywhere near your mouth!
But this doesn't mean this is perfection. There are a few scratchy moments, and in one scene where John is supposed to be drunk, I was completely unconvinced by both his demeanour and also Christie's reactions to him as Laura. This was one scene where I was worried the relationship between them would become a bit falsified and less of an impact as the film wore on, but the end of the scene is powerful and they pull it back. Older films with less technology thrown at them often reveal flaws a lot more than they do these days, with errors a bit more obvious, and there are a few noticeable ones. In one scene, John makes a point of putting gloves on, but these soon disappear, as do other items of clothing throughout the film. Clothes disappear quite a bit in one early scene where there's a correlation between them coping with their grief and making love, a scene that is tastefully done but is interlinked with a scene shortly after when they're getting ready to go out for a meal. I was a bit confused with this scene, and felt that Roeg could have made a lot more of it, seeing as he rarely misses a trick with leaping at opportunity for the rest of the film.
And so to the end. If I was in any doubt as to the power of the film, then the climax will have you shocked, guaranteed. I jumped, and there was a horrifed look on my face, no doubt, for anyone who may have been watching at the time. Watching things back through the second time could clear up some of the more confused moments, but even a second time watching that conclusion is still powerful, and not in a good way. Shocking, just purely shocking. As one previous review mentions, no amount of CGI could have that effect. Even Danny Boyle says he was stone chilled and his heart went cold when he saw it, and this coming from the man behind gore fest 28 Days Later.
A stunning film for the most part, let down on rare occasions. Despite these few moments, I'm still giving this a top rate, as I feel it's one of the most powerful films I've seen. The use of red is excellent, and the ending grabs the biscuit and cures any doubt. As I'm sure you can tell, I highly recommend watching this. It's my first experience of Nicolas Roeg as a director, but I'm sure it's not going to be my last. Top stuff.
John and Laura Baxter are absolutely devastated when their young daughter, Christine, drowns not far from their home. To help them get over the shock, they go to Venice, where John has been engaged to renovate an old church. Laura meets two old women, one of whom is psychic and claims that she has seen Christine. Laura is convinced, but John is more sceptical. Then Laura is suddenly called back to England to see to their son, who has had an accident. While she is away, John begins to see things that couldn't possibly be there; namely his wife and his daughter. All this coincides with a series of murders in Venice. The psychic suspects that he also has the gift of second sight. Or is it just that his grief is slowly driving him mad?
John Baxter is played by Donald Sutherland, father of Kiefer. He gives a wonderful performance. His grief at the death of his daughter is breath-taking and so convincing that I found myself with tears running down my face. His later breakdown is also powerfully done. My only problem with him is an aesthetic one - his curly hair is absolutely ridiculous and it did make it hard at times to take him seriously (yes I do know looks shouldn't be important, but it really did affect my appreciation of the film). I understand it was a wig - I certainly hope so! However, it is important to remember that the film was made in 1973 and hairstyles were very different then - perhaps if you expect it, it won't be quite as painful to watch!
Julie Christie seems to be more famous for her beauty than anything else, but she actually is a good actress. As Laura, she doesn't have to portray the same emotions that Sutherland did, but she still gives a good and emotive performance as a grieving mother. We do get to see rather a lot of her in a long and drawn-out sex scene with her husband, but it is tastefully done and I'm sure that the majority of men will love it. And she certainly is very attractive. The two old ladies are played by Hilary Mason and Clelia Matania are sufficiently creepy to add another layer of intrigue to the film - until the end of the film, it is never quite clear whether they are trying to help Laura or scare her to death. At one point the psychic lady goes into a trance and sounds as though she's having an orgasm, but I'm sure that will add to the entertainment for many!
Directed by Nicholas Roeg, who also directed Walkabout, one of my favourite films, I was expecting something visually attractive. And that it certainly is. The setting in Venice and the fact that John is an architect obviously calls for some gorgeous backdrops - particularly in churches and other historical buildings. Then there is the red motif. Christine dies in a red mac chasing a red ball, flashes of which appear throughout the film. And then every time something terrible happens, a red splodge of blood appears across the screen. I have always liked the use of red in films - it is so eye-catching and conjures up so many things for me (and not all blood-related).
The way the film is made is very clever - lots of odd camera angles that add to the interest of the film, although if I'm honest, I found it all a little over pretentious at times. The sex scene, for example, flashed between them having sex and getting dressed and ready to go out afterwards. This all seemed a little unnecessary to me. Sometimes these flashes between scenes were effective though - at the beginning, we see the daughter's final actions mirrored in her father's, which makes it all the more tragic. And the visions are done well - the choppiness of the camera work adding to the creepy atmosphere.
The story is based on one by Daphne du Maurier, an author I know very well - but I haven't read this particular one. I understand, however, that the director hasn't followed the story particularly carefully. Personally I thought the story had some flaws. It isn't always clear, for example, why things are happening the way they are - there is little in the way of explanation, which leaves the viewer to make their own mind up. I'm usually quite happy to be made to think, but in this case, I was left with too many questions. Again, this adds to the feeling of pretentiousness that I got from the film - it seems at times as though the director is trying to prove how much more intelligent and forward-thinking he is than the average viewer. However, it does make more sense on the second viewing, so it may be worth giving it another try.
The film is classed as an 15 which, to be honest, I thought was unnecessary (it was originally an 18!). There are some creepy bits, the sex scene (which is quite rampant, although not particularly graphic, and we do see a couple of murders, but there is nothing that most teenagers don't see every day on the television. It certainly isn't for young children though. The special effects, such as they are, aren't all that great - the blood is so red it's almost orange - but the film was made over thirty five years ago, so that's not suprising. The quality of the DVD is good - it has certainly been digitally enhanced.
Several people have recommended this film to me, so I was really looking forward to seeing it. If I'm honest, however, I was a little bit disappointed. It certainly has its strong points - the visuals are generally gorgeous and the lead performances were excellent - but the feeling that it is a little bit too clever for its own good remains with me. However, a great deal of people obviously don't agree, so it is certainly worth making your own mind up. For me, three and a half stars out of five, recommended.
The DVD is available from play.com from £5.98.
Running time: 110 minutes
Don't look now is a film by one of my all time favourite directors, Nicholas Roeg, it is a famous as much for a scene in the film where the couple, played by real life couple, Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie have sex, there was huge controversy over whether this was acting or whether this was real, but this shouldn't take away from the film in anyway as it is a much more important film than to revolve around this issue.
Don't look now is loosely based on a Daphne de Maurier short story, it revolves around John and Laura Baxter, a couple whose daughter has recently drowned in a tragic accident. The film is a fan's heaven with the amazing shots, the symmetry of motion, the haunting music and the acting.
The film begins with the family at Home, John drinking a glass of wine, the daughter Christine playing close to a pond in a bright red coat, and her brother riding his bicycle, the boy rides over a pane of glass, the crack makes John jump, we then see John spill his red wine and the red coat floating earily in the pond. This scene is incredible the links between the movements is exceptional and it is quite brilliant in being haunting, scary and wonderfully shot. Sutherlands acting is exceptional, seeing his daughter drowned he yells a breathtakingly shrill yell of loss and pain and animalistically grabs his lost daughter from the pond.
We later follow the Baxters now living in Venice (You can link the waterways to the pond in the fact they family are now haunted by the power of water). With John working at restoring an old church, there is a killer loose on the streets of Venice and we follow John and Laura. The family are broken, together but apart, until one day in a restaurant an old pair of English spinsters sat at a nearby table tell Laura that they saw Christine with her parents at lunch and she is happy and at peace now. Laura is intrigued by these psychic sisters and maintains contact with them to have contact with Christine, while John wants nothing to do with them, the narrative of the story is that the couple are together in name but totally alone, lost and frightened in themselves.
For the first time since the accident, we see Laura smile and release her emotions, the couple make love that evening and the animalistic passion and love is intense, the way Roeg shoots this is to intersperse the sex with the couple getting dressed in a dry English manner afterwards meaning we maintain the parallels between how the couple were and how they now are, together but very much apart, trying to handle their own internal grief privately.
The film follows John and Laura and maintains the sub-plot of the serial killer, John keeps seeing a little girl in a red coat on the streets of Venice and whenever he chases he loses her, the film builds through the characters desire to find something that isn't there to an incredibly tense and horrible climax, this film is frightening in a way that few films have and ever will be.
The film is entirely about Sutherland and Christie, both turn in exceptional performances, Sutherland is a man wound in grief, using work as his obsessive outlet, trying to hold everything together but obsessed with his loss and his failure to stop it, his grief and own obsession lead to something awful.
Christie is also wonderful, she plays a woman who doesn't know what to do with herself, she has lost her daughter and her husband and seeks respite, she finds it in the elderly spinsters and uses them as a means to believe she still has her daughter, we watch her slowly unravel and the relationship between John and Laura fall apart through their loss and their own feelings of grief and guilt.
For me this is an exceptional film in every sense, the story is slow and well paced, it develops into a thrilling film with an ending you'll never forget, the symbolism throughout is heavy, the girl in the red coat is one of the most enduring images in cinema and set against a grey, grainy autumnal Venice, the film has a really edgy feel, first and foremost this film is a drama but it is also a horror film, dealing with the supernatural, spirituality and the human desire to believe in things we perhaps shouldn't.
From the opening scenes with the wine glass and cracking glass we get a taste of the film and realise it will reward us if we play along, we see John and Laura at various times lost in foggy Venice, is it real or is it a dream, it looks like both, the drowned bodies surfacing due to the serial killer are a constant reminder to the couple that their daughter is dead and the city is as villainous as any character or thought in this film.
The film's symbolism and stunning visuals is what make it so special, we see John being told he has the gift of second sight, by the end of the film we realise it is actually a curse, we see Laura leave to go and see their son and pass John on a funeral boat, we notice small things like the gargoyle sticking its tongue out and the hotel so desperate to close, we realise that the whole film is bringing an end to something.
The acting in this piece is exceptional, without such strong central performances, this would be a simple horror and the finale wouldn't have such gravitas, but the star of the film for me is Roeg, a wonderful director, his shot selection in England and in Venice is stunning, his narrative creates a fearful city of shadows and fear, which is almost like a hell and heaven on earth, he develops the distance between the characters until they really have nothing left to live for but themselves.
The film is haunting, this makes it far scarier than any number of more horrific films, its all about implication, realism and fatalism and this is so much scarier and real than all the CGI monsters in the world.
This film is worth repeated watches and rewards you for this. It is available for £4.99 in HMV.
A good friend of mine cites this film as his all time favourite movie. By all accounts it's a masterpiece of modern cinema according to many books and websites, however, apart from a few individual flashes of brilliance I didn't really get into it.
The plot concerns Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland, a couple with two children who live in England. One day their daughter falls into their lake and dies. Haunted by this accident the couple move to Venice where Sutherland is renovating a local church. Julie Christie, who has never quite got over the death of their daughter seeks solace in strange pair of elderly sisters, one of which is blind. Sutherland is haunted by the mysterious young girl who he keeps seeing who just happens to be wearing the same red outfit.
The Venetian locations are used to great effect and are one of the best things about the film; they provide a mysterious and creepy background to the films action. Director Nicholas Roeg certainly made the film look good, and it still does look good after all these years. It's unfortunate that the film never quite held my attention throughout.
There were some standout scenes, one being the now infamous sex scene between Sutherland and Christie. There is also a very well done scene where Sutherland falls from a scaffold, it made me wonder how much of that scene was actually done by Sutherland himself as he really does look like he's in danger.
Donald Sutherland was well suited to the part; he's got such strange wide eyes and a menacing massive body. Christie plays the grieving wide very well, but it's the weird psychic biddy sisters that standout for me. They have such an impact on the film it stays with you for a long time afterwards.
The last scene was truly shocking and I wasn't prepared for it at all! It's unfortunate that the rest of the film didn't really match up for tension. I'm sure if the film were to be remade today they would have shrieky violin parts at every moment and wouldn't build up slowly to the required effect.
I didn't find the film that compelling, maybe this was due to the age of the film, but having said that Get Carter, The French Connection and The Exorcist are from a similar vintage and I found them exciting.
I'm glad I've seen it and I'm sure a debate will now begin between Tom Flint and I, but I just couldn't get into it.
Don't Look Now is available from play.com for £4.99 including postage.
This has to be one of the greatest films ever made, it is based on a story written by the great Daphne du Maurier and tells the tale of a couple (superbly played by Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie) who's little daughter dies after falling into a pond.
They travel to Venice where Donald Sutherland is undertaking restoration work on a church. It is whilst doing this that he starts to see his daughter (when she died she was wearing a red coat) and he starts to see a small figure in the same red coat darting about Venice.
He meets two sisters one of whom is a Psychic and the film develops from here into what has to be one of the most unexpected endings ever seen on film.
The film is superbly directed by Nicholas Roeg who makes fantastic use of Venice and all its architecture and canals. the photography is stunning and the musical score adds to an already eerie atmosphere.
The two lead actors are superb and this is the film that includes the famous love scene that people still talk about because at the time it was widely reported that they were not actually acting the scene!
I don't think I have ever seen a performance from either of them before or since which comes anywhere nearing what they achieve here.
This is a truly beautiful film that is slow moving and measured but commands you to watch every intriguing second. Watch it in a darkened room and you will be hooked from the opening scenes to the superbly shocking finale, a true classic of 1970's cinema and deserves a place in everyones DVD collection.
== DON'T LOOK NOW ==
Released in 1973, in the genre Drama/Horror/Mystery, and directed by Nicolas Roeg, 'Don't Look Now' is a stunning film starring Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie. It is adapted from an old Daphne du Maurier ghost story. Set almost entirely in Venice 'Don't Look Now' has to be the best film of the 1970's and beyond, and it is still entirely relevant today. Barely dated, this is one of those stand alone films that is truly remarkable, and one that has held it's deserved place in Cinema history.-
== SYNOPSIS ==
The film begins in England with John and Laura Baxter. (Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie) Their daughter Christine has tragically drowned face down in a deep puddle. She was wearing a red coat. The film jumps on and the couple are now in Venice where John has come to work on a restoration of a beautiful old church. Getting away from the scene of their daughters death seemed the right thing to do, and to try and give themselves some sense of acceptance, and closure to their grieving process. John throws himself into his work of restoring an ancient church, while Laura explores the beautiful decaying city of Venice. Sitting outside a cafe one day, they meet two strange elderly sisters who are physic, and one of the sisters with the greatest mediumship ability is blind. The sisters tell them their daughter is still with them, and is trying to warn them of danger. The sisters sense a physic ability in John, though he won't acknowledge this or let it develop. One night whilst strolling beside the canal John and Laura see a small figure in red scurrying through the maze of alleyways, and they become convinced that this is their daughter Christine. -
== MY OPINION ==
This film has an amazing storyline. 'Don't Look Now' was a radical film of it's day. It's a very clever film and totally unique. It's a masterpiece of a film, and hard to pigeon hole, it really is in a class of it's own. It is a wonderfully mysterious film, and very chilling. The film is set in the visually stunning city of Venice with its beautiful crumbling architecture, water damaged by the canal. A dying, sinking city living on lagoons. It is amazing to behold, but in reality the rotting stench of the sewerage dumped into the canals is foul, and the flooding is eroding the wonderful ancient buildings, and this grim atmosphere comes across strongly in the film. The atmosphere in Don't Look Now is alive, it is electric, it is so wrapped in atmosphere that I found myself totally lost to the story and the eerie setting. The canals formed a spooky backdrop to this story, with their winding alleyways and dank wet stone, they lend a macabre feel to the unfolding story. There is just this feeling that 'Don't Look Now' evokes for me. It plays to the senses, it unnerves you in a strange way. I can't think of another film that has had this effect on me, and years after first seeing this, the story and feeling stays with me in vivid recollection when I think about it. So I can say this film has had a profound effect upon me, and such is the nature of Don't Look Now. Donald Sutherland is stunning in the film, his performance as the grieving father is second to none. I felt his huge grief, the fact that he had almost lost the will to live. He put that across with acting excellence, and I really empathised with him. He seemed to cross the actor/audience divide in this role, and his portrayal of a man on the brink was superb.
Laura (Julie Christie) was a good support, though not in the same league as Sutherland. Known as an art-house darling she did her best but when matched against a superb actor like Sutherland, I felt she was a little lacking. But nonetheless it didn't lesson the impact of the film for me. There were just some scenes when I wished they had used a more proficient actress and not the woman of the day. There is a lovemaking scene within the film which was quite graphic for that era, and brought the film much attention, but I can see why it was included, and I thought it came at the perfect time in the film, and I can totally understood why it was included. It was almost like an affirmation of combined grief, and love and seemed entirely non sexual to me. Some films seem to just put these scenes in because sex sells, and not because it will enhance, or is important to the storyline in some way. Don't Look Now has a surreal quality to it, and we appear to be watching it through kaleidoscopic imagery. The cinematography is splendid, and we are afforded the wonderful buildings of Venice for our visual delight. Don't Look Now has a dreamlike aura to it, as if we are watching it through a haze, and the beautifully haunting score by Pino Donaggio lends the perfect aural accompanying arrangement throughout.
The film always seems to be on a slightly different level of reality, never quite down to earth and I think this is what gives the film it's enormous impact. The use of fractured timescale also keeps us in limbo, as we are never quite sure where we will go next. We can never quite relate to the film, and it keeps us suspended through the horrors we are witnessing. I felt very uneasy all the way through, and as I said earlier, the film left it's mark on me. A sign of a truly great film I think. The film has a classical feel to it, a disquieting beauty, and an intense pain. It also has a strong theme of illusion woven through the intricate storyline. The themes of red, and water are shown in different ways throughout the film, a spilt glass of red wine, red ink, blood, reinforcing the daughters death as a reality or maybe as in a premonition of her ghostly presence. Don't look now keeps you mesmerised all the way throughout the film, and you are never quite sure what will happen next. It's highly disturbing, and I felt anxious from one scene to the next. The film delivered pure tension, and a thoroughly gripping and original storyline. It has all the elements of the traditional horror genre, and they are put to tremendous use here. The backstreets of Venice, with their menacing dark corners, and twists and turns was a masterstroke of invention, as this is what made the film as scary as it was for me. A different setting would not have had the same impact for me of that I'm sure.
There is an intensely erotic quality about this film also. I think that their grief is portrayed as close to passion, and the two main protagonists portrayed this very well. The film kept me perplexed and dislocated throughout. A great psychological horror film, full of suspense, knots in the stomach, and a sickening vile twist of an ending, with a real sting in the tail. A real shocker, where all will come together, and leave you feeling thoroughly sick. The film has built well to this ending, it has left us almost in the dark throughout, so that when then ending is subjected to us, we are suddenly given our reality back, and brought down to earth, and the ending comes likes a kick in the stomach. This is brilliant film making as far as I am concerned, and this is a film that I rank as one of my all time favourites. Don't Look Now won many awards and is now afforded cult status in our cinema heritage.-
Running Time: 110 Minutes.
BBFC Rating: 15.
Written by Daphne du Maurier (story)
Allan Scott (screenplay)
Chris Bryant (screenplay)
Thank you for reading.
I am very enthusiastic about film. I don't mean that I like watching loads of films (well, I do but that isn't what I am getting at). What I mean is that cinema is a great interest. There I go again! This is becoming very complex. I studied film as part of my university degree many years ago, and I am an avid viewer of most kinds of films. They do not have to be modern, they do not have to have been all that popular. I like to view films with a critical eye as much as possible. I look at the cinematography, the lighting, the setting, as well as any passing entertainment value that a film may or may not have.
In the 1970s the British film industry was at its nadir. Cinemas were closing, people stayed at home and Britsh-made films were not exactly plentiful (by the way the biggest grossing British-made film of 1975 at cinemas was 'Confessions of a Window Cleaner' - point proven?).
In 1973 British Lion Films was bought by EMI, and the new owners decided to offload pending feature films as quickly as possible with minimal publicity. One film which was offloaded in this manner was the classic 'The Wicker Man' (now sadly being remade by Hollywood), which was distributed in British cinemas as a double bill with the film I now seek to do justice to in a review, 'Don't Look Now'. So we have a film that did not have a lot of publicity in its early days. What I need to do is to try and prove to you, dear reader, that the latter is a film that does justify viewing. I will try and do so while giving as little away as possible in terms of spoilers.
'Don't Look Now' - Storyline
John and Laura Baxter are a happy couple who have a very happy life - large house, two children, and John is a historian working on restoration of churches. The couple's life is ripped totally asunder when, on one Sunday afternoon, their beautiful young daughter Christine is drowned in their garden.
The couple move to Venice, so that John can work on the restoration of some of that city's beautiful churches. This is also an attempt to draw a line under the tragedy that has befallen them and to start a new life, with their son happy at boarding school.
The couple encounter a pair of sisters, who are both of 'a certain age'. One of the sisters is blind and also claims to be psychic, saying that she can see the spirit of the couple's dead daughter. This leads John to begin what becomes an increasingly frantic search for his daughter through the darkened alleyways of Venice...
The two leads in the film are world-famous names. Donald Sutherland had just completed Robert Altman's 'MASH' and was world-famous. Here he gives an understated and haunted performance , which is almost mesmeric.
Julie Christie was, at the time, a blue-eyed girl of world cinema, being the star of 'Dr Zhivago' and also a famous former girlfriend of Terence Stamp. Her performance is also excellent, giving a great portrayal of a mother recovering from the loss of her daughter.
The other name in the film is the director, Nicolas Roeg. A famous director, well-known for 'Performance' and 'Walkabout', a film with sumptuous cinematography. Here he manages to create a film that is eerie and haunting, with beautiful settings, very creative editing, of which I will write more later, and a (still) very effective climax.
This film, albeit a nominally psychological horror film based on a story by Daphne du Maurier, contains a very effective scene that has become world famous in cinema. It became knows as the 'are they or aren't they' scene. It is a very tender love scene between Sutherland and Christie, and is edited very carefully and tenderly to combine the love-making of a couple who are very much in love, along with the post-coital preparations for an evening out. It lasts about 4 minutes and is not overly voyeuristic. Yes, the BBFC would now describe it as 'strong sex', but it is not some pervy porno scene, it is a realistic and tender scene, and is so convincing that many questions have been asked as to whether congress actually took place!
This is an excellent film. It was practically disowned by EMI when they took over ownership of British Lion, as it was not quite up to the standard of the Carry on films in their view. Some fans of modern schlock-horror films may consider it to be a little slow in parts, but give it a go. It is eeire and atmospheric, and benefits from a director who definitely knows his craft, and two leads who manage to portray grief, love and increasing confusion as they believe that their life is about to be turned upside down once more.
Years ago I watched the film "Don't Look Now" at the cinema. I remember finding it quite depressing at the time. One of the scenes in particular affected me so much that it was a case of sleeping with the light on for about a week afterwards. The film is an adaptation of the book by Daphne Du Maurier. Du Maurier is one of my favourite authors and I have read the book a couple of times. On a recent shopping trip in HMV, I noticed the video on sale for £3.99. As my husband had never seen it, I bought it and we watched it over the weekend.
The film starts in England. Mr and Mrs Baxter (John and Laura) are at home working and their two children Johnny and Christine are playing in the garden. Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland play Mr and Mrs Baxter. John Baxter's work is in the restoration of old churches and he is an expert in old stained glass. They are both preparing for a trip to Venice.
Meanwhile out in the garden, Christine is playing with a ball. She is wearing a shiny red mac, which is significant throughout the film. The ball lands in a lake and Christine sets out to retrieve it. At the same time, her father is studying a frame of a church on his projector. Suddenly a small figure in a red coat appears on the photograph. He has to do a double take and on a second glance the figure has disappeared. Looking at a fragment of stained glass, he is startled to see what appears to be a blob of red paint run over it. Putting the glass down, he runs in to the garden. His son, in a panic is running towards him. His daughter is in the lake and all desperate attempts to revive her fail. He wails at his loss.
The film moves to a couple of months later. With their son away at boarding school, Mr and Mrs Baxter embark on a winter working trip to Venice. In a restaurant, they meet a blind and strange clairvoyant, who tells them that she can see their daughter sitting between them. She describes the red coat she is wearing and tells them that their daughter is happy and indeed she can hear her laughing. She gives them a message that Mr Baxter is in danger while he remains in Venice. From then on, the film remains in Venice. The clairvoyant says that Mr Baxter too has the gift but won't admit it.
Without giving anymore of the story line away and spoiling if for you, let's just say that their whole world starts to disintegrate around them. John sees flashes of red at windows and the little figure in red is seen running from house to house and appearing on boats and bridges. He begins a frantic search for his daughter, through deserted canals and menacing alleys. Every day events turn into omens.
This is a really powerful film. It is now over thirty years old but apart from the clothes which are a give away to it's age and the sound which hasn't recorded too well, the story and the graphics still grip the viewer. Every frame feels like it has some significance. Nobody can be sure of what is real and what is illusion. There is a great sense of place. Venice in winter is depressing. I remember the first time I watched this, I said that I would never go and second time round I don't feel any different.
Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland play very convincing roles. The psychic's part is exceptionally spooky adding to the eerieness of the film. The film is described as "one of the best horror films ever made" Personally, I would describe it as an excellent psychological thriller.
The film is certified at 15. This is probably set right. There is an explicit sex scene where Christie and Sutherland leave nothing to the imagination and one very gory scene but nothing to warrant an 18. The strength lies with the atmosphere it creates and the sense of anticipation until the macabre, shattering climax.
A bargain at £3.99 and a great night's viewing.
This time, I managed to sleep with the light off!
Laura and John Baxter (Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland) are spending a day at home whilst their two children Johnny (Nicholas Salter) and Christine (Sharon Williams) are playing outside. Christine is throwing a ball around whilst Johnny rides around on his bike. Inside Laura is researching an answer to a question Christine asked her and John is looking at some slides of a church he is to restore. In one of them he notices a small figure with a red coat on, that looks like Christine's. He spills some water on it and the figure seems to leek red ink all over the slide like blood. John then gets up and runs out he senses something is wrong. When he gets outside he discovers that Christine has drowned. Her tries to revive her but it's too late. Cut forward in time and John and Laura are temporarily living in Venice whilst John restores a church. One day, whilst sitting in a restaurant John notices that they are being stared at by two old women, Heather (Hilary Mason) and Wendy (Clelia Matania). Wendy gets something in her eye and Laura helps them to the bathroom. Whilst in there she learns that Wendy is blind but psychic. She tells Laura that she saw Christine sitting in-between her and John in the restaurant. Laura goes downstairs shocked but intrigued and faints. She goes to hospital and John goes to see her. She tells him of her encounter with the two sisters but he dismisses it . He sets into restoring the church while Laura starts seeing more of the sisters. She is told that John has the same gift as Heather and he ignores it. They also tells Christine is there to warn John because something bad is going to happen. John starts to see a small figure in a red coat running around Venice, is it Christine? and will he acknowledge it or ignore it. I got this film on video ages ago because of it's reputation of being an outstanding piece of filmmaking and a great genre movie. I watched it and didn't think it was all that and forgot
about it really. Then last week in film studies for our season on auteur and modern classics we watched it again. It was this second time I watched it that I realised what a brilliant piece of filmmaking this is. There are many things that this film scores highly in, directing, acting, plot, and editing. Firstly the acting. Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland have big hand in making this film so great. They but in truly outstanding performances. Their characters are a couple of grief stricken parents trying to forget the death of their daughter and they make it truly believable. One thing that makes their performance so outstanding that they look and act like a couple in love but they always seem to remind us that their is something not right. They draw a loot of sympathy. Then we have Christies performance of a woman drawn in by a psychic because she misses her daughter and Heather allows her to hold onto her daughter somehow. Sutherland also is brilliant in his denial of Heather's power but doesn't come across as ignorant, but as hurt because he too is still scarred by Christine's death. It is also significant that he restores buildings, he fixes broken churches but can't fix himself. The other two great performance is from Hilary Mason who plays Heather. She does the psychic thing well and doesn't come off as a mad person trying to lead someone on but as a person who is generally concerned and wants to help. The next great thing about this film is the plot. It is billed as a horror but is not your generic slashed story but more of a domestic horror, coming to terms with the loss of a child. That in itself is the main plot of the film but their is also the sub plot of Heather and also of the small hooded figure and the murders in Venice. I liked the way that throughout the film the their were a lot of plot strings that didn't quite fit together but at the end you suddenly realise the connection and that makes the fil
m all the more outstanding. The story itself also creates a haunting and foreboding atmosphere that drenches every scene and puts the viewer on edge. The pace of the film is slow and that is not a bad thing (although some will hate it) it allows us to know the characters well and connect with them. Another great thing about the plot is the setting itself. Venice has the reputation of a beautiful romantic place but seems to trap the two in the film because of the vast maze like streets, it also creates the feeling of isolation because you can't just easily leave because of the water and this also leads to entrapment. These feelings both brilliant echo John and Laura's feelings. The best thing about Venice is the fact that there is so much water so we are always reminded of Christine’s death because she drowned, this also goes to making John and Laura's pain seems so fresh because they are constantly reminded. This combines well with the haunting soundtrack that fits perfectly in the film. The directing and editing is truly magnificent in this film. Nicholas Roeg plasters every scene with symbols that remind you of Christine(you will probably have to watch the film a few times to notice them all) for example in the hospital one of the child patients has a ball just like Chrsitines. Also the use of red is spectacular. Firstly Roeg has removed almost all the red in every scene and then uses it a few times. When you see it you are immediately drawn to it because it is so bright. This again is a reminder of Christine. The colour purple is also quite important, John's coat and Heather's head scarf are purple and this acts as a visual link between them because they are both psychic. One of the best, and now one of classic scenes from the film is the opening. It is carefully constructed and composed from hundreds of shots. It sets up the whole haunting premise. We get Christine being reflected in the water happily skipping along. Then
immediatel y cuts to inside with John and Christine. Roeg also doesn't show Christine drowning just her face submerging and this works extremely well. Then when Sutherland picks her up and screams in agony, then tries to carry to the house and slips over is moving and poignant. The editing in this and the rest of the film is also brilliant. Roeg and editor Graeme Clifford use a cross editing effect so we see Christine throwing a ball then John catching something, this is repeated and works wonderfully throughout the film. This is truly one of the greatest British horror/supernatural thriller films and is a must see. It is a breath of fresh air from Hollywood horrors and even Hollywood films and is truly a gem. The only down side to this film is that it was virtually ignored in America on release and is not as well known as a master piece should be.
Produced in 1973, Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now was released the same year as The Exorcist and is the only basis for comparison between these two films. While Friedkin’s The Exorcist hits us in the face with effects, Don't Look Now gets to you from a different angle. From the very first scene, and with a gradual elegance, the film inserts itself into a place where your childhood and adult fears reside. When the setting moves to Venice the story becomes both beautiful and menacing – the feeling that something terrible is going to happen and that something is going to jump out from every corner of the narrow streets of Venice plays with our conscious mind. It is a troubled tale, a film which leaves more questions unanswered than resolved until the final disturbing scene of the movie. The film requires something we have little of in today’s society - patience. It is a film which will not be truly understood until the last frame is witnessed, although the tale, based on Daphne De Maurier’s short story is simple enough - a couple trying to get away from the death of their daughter - a story of love and the fear of loosing someone very close to you. But beneath this it is a film about memories, perception and imagery. Roeg's unique style of fragmented time and images is never overplayed as it is layered with some of the greatest editing you will ever see – it is so ingenious that you are not even aware of when he is using it. The controversial love scene (did they or didn’t they?) is one of the most beautiful loves scenes ever filmed - Christie and Sutherland in genuinely erotic (especially by the standards of the time) lovemaking, perfectly edited with scenes of the couple dressing the following morning. It shows on how to depict love, and not sex in a film. Don’t Look Now is a film where the ending truly brings it all together, its slow, plodding moments become moments of utter fear and ter
ror and characters who appeared to be sinister and evil become the ones we should have trusted in the first place. You can draw comparisons to The Sixth Sense as much as you like, because at the end of the day Roeg’s style makes the film a far subtle and superior effort. This is what a film can be when people put their mind to it, everything is faultless - the cinematography is unsettling, Venice has never looked so gothic as it does in this film. The acting is spot on with Julie Christie’s caring performance and Donald Sutherland brings a total understanding to his character. They seem the most genuine and believable couple to have ever graced the screen - the chemistry is there and with no awkwardness amongst their scenes. The film has many layers and there is a lot of symbolic scenes which all make sense once you've seen all of it. There is a lot you can read into, specifically psychological aspects such as the colour red, which makes you feel edgy and nervous throughout the film, you'll never look at the colour again without a shiver. The film is softly focused, bringing out the bright red in its pastel surrounding. As far as love stories go, what engages and captivates one person can just as easily displease and repulse another (I would use Titanic as a prime example). Some films just don't hit home – simply a lack of appreciation of those memorable films. However, Don't Look Now is a film which you cannot fail to forget. It is a film which has such a scope of qualities - its rare depth of character, its beautiful yet disturbing plot, the stunning Venice setting, the tender and original love scene and Christie’s and Sutherland's performance. You will have a hard time finding a film like Don't Look Now these days, they are a rare case, a lot of film-makers are not willing to take those chances of following the dull formulaic line because they would rather make money than make a quality production. Ask yourself this? What was the last film that stayed with you long after you saw it? It doesn’t often happen with the exception of modern day films such as Being John Malkovich and American Beauty, it is becoming a rare case. Saying that Don't Look Now haunted you after viewing may sound like a cliché but there is no doubt about it, the film has a curious effect on the viewer – It is an intense experience which grows in your mind and the ending isn’t the only thing you won’t forget.
Based on a story by Daphne du Maurier, Don't look now tells the story of John Baxter(Donald Sutherland) and his wife Laura(Julie Christie) who travel to Venice after the accidental death of their young daughter. She drowned, but whilst in Venice and working on the restoration of a church Baxter begins to discover he has psychic abilities and eventually starts seeing his daugther in flashing glimpses about the streets of Venice. He refuses to believe in his powers, but she is wearing the same red coat in which she drowned and it becomes hard for him not to believe especially aided by the attention of two strange sisters who also claim to see her as well. Its all very mysterious and left unexplained up until the closing scenes...butstick with it and you are in for a treat! Don't Look Now is of the finest British movies ever made despite being more famous amongst movie lovers for its 'did they/didn't they?' love-making scene between the two main stars. Nicholas Roeg's adaptation of Daphne du Maurier's novel deserves far more attention paid to it for its sheer brilliance in creating a truly eerie atmosphere and its wonderful use of imagery to truly unsettle the viewer. Set against the backdrop of Venice's canals and architecture you get a real sense of mystery and intrigue as the story unfolds up until its more than satisfying climax. The performances from Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland are quite simply superb and in my opinion the most impressive of both their careers. They are of course aided by an excellent script and some truly hauntingly memorable scenes such as the wonderful use of the daughter's red coat to create alluring flashes of colour amongst the crowd and one scene in which a funeral barge floats down the canal which all combine to build a truly mysterious and intriguing atmosphere. It is an impressive meditation on death, the fear of dying and what lies beyond and everything right down to the ma
gnificent musical score blends together to perfection. I love this movie and I think you will too. It is quite slow moving in parts, but trust me, stick with it and I guarantee you will not be disappointed.
I was lucky enough to go to a gala screening of this movie at the Printworks in Manchester just prior to its cinema re-release, at which Nic Roeg and the fascinatingly louche editor of Sight And Sound were present. Accenture, a big company who I think used to be Arthur Anderson (my partner is shouting at me that it was Anderson Consulting, corrections welcome) have done a Good Thing in giving the BFI a small fortune to restore and create new prints of classic movies, then show them in cinemas. We've already had 'Some Like It Hot' (hurray!), 'Breakfast at Tiffanys' (yuck!) and now 'Don't Look Now', with 'Alfie' and four more unnamed movies on the way. Restoring and releasing classics is a very beneficial thing, and should be supported with you buying cinema tickets to see them. Anyway, 'Don't Look Now' is one of my favourites, one of the few truly successful movies from Roeg, one of Britain's most adventurous and pretentious directors. Few of his films totally achieve their objectives, but they're always interesting. 'Don't Look Now' is generally faultless, a combination of mystery thriller and gimmicky art movie. Laura and John Baxter (Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland) are an anglo-American couple hit by cruel tragedy when their daughter Christine drowns in a pond. Still scarred, they relocate to Venice where John is restoring a crumbling church. Laura meets a pair of eccentric English sisters, one of whom (Hilary Mason) claims to have psychic powers, and has contact with Christine in the spirit world. She alledges that Christine has a warning for John, and that he is danger. But despite John's scepticism, he seems to be having psychic episodes of his own. You could enjoy 'Don't Look Now' as a straight thriller. Despite the constant use of images - flashes of red, water, breaking glass - which all link into the resolution of the story, Ro
eg wanted to make a film in which he told a story, after his first two films ('Walkabout' and 'Performance') which were more elliptical and non-linear. There is a strong plot in the film, with John's brushes with death and the atmosphere of visions and hallucinations building towards an unforgettable and shattering finale in which everything suddenly adds up. Watching it for the second time, I was struck by how many films have been directly influenced by 'Don't Look Now'. 'Halloween' directly plunders the film's use of a shadowy figure glimpsed suddenly in a corner of the screen, while the emphasis on details noticed in photographs appears in 'The Omen'. 'The Sixth Sense' uses the same idea of a psychic world intruding into reality, and puzzles to be solved, while 'Blair Witch' plays similar games with sound and an almost complete absence of physical terror. It's a very beautiful film, shot almost entirely in a grey, wintry Venice, and an incredibly artful use of images, like the ink spreading across the photograph in the opening section as Christine is drowning, gradually becoming the shape of an embryo. It's tempting to talk into too much detail about the story, adapted from a very bleak and nasty short story by Daphne Du Maurier (the only problem is that there's no way to include the last line of the story, which is just brilliant). But I don't want to spoil it for you - just keep your eyes and ears open, and pick up on every detail that you see. I like it because in terms of suspense, it's brilliant, and the unsettling atmosphere, with images of death and pain circling John and Laura as if they're being hunted. The performances are immaculate, and the music by Pino Donaggio is superb. Roeg's direction makes it, and even his trademark of explicit sex works here (in other films, it gets a bit intrusive), with the justly celebrated seq
uence of John and Laura having sex intercut with their preparations for dinner afterwards (so you see how they felt about it afterwards spliced with them actually doing it). I'm biased - I always want to give Roeg a chance, and Sutherland and Christie are among my very favourite actors, but if you like beautiful films, quiet horror, Hitchcock or a good old-fashioned mystery, it's all here. Just keep looking.
Ok, so its a bad pun of a title. But then this is a bad, dull little film. I honestly have no idea why some hail this as a classic. Its the kind of film the critics champion, safe in the knowledge that they can make themselves feel superior by alienating the average film fan. Its a horror film for people who hate horror films. The plot: when a young couple's daughter (played by Julie Christie and the ever-weaselly Donald Sutherland) drowns in an unconvincing accident, they are understandably devastated. They move to venice, where they fall in with some psychics who claim to be in touch with the spirit of the girl. Meanwhile, the city is reeling from a series of brutal murders. As the plot escalates, the couple begin to question whether or not their daughter is really dead, a matter complicated by the appearance of a mysterious child like figure in a red coat. This is such a dull film. There is always something good to say for a slow burning atmosphere, films like 'The Fog' are classics. But this film is simply boring. Ok, so Venice looks atmospheric and dreary enough.....but come on, its not exactly hard to make Venice in the Autumn look dilapidated and gothic. The acting isn't great, the plot is frankly uninspired and unoriginal and the acting is merely functional. And so much for the much talked about sex scene. Don't be fooled by this film's reputation. AVOID.
Don't Look Now was filmed in 1973 and based around a Daphne Du Maurier novel. Directed by Nicolas Roeg, it has lost none of its chill: like Kubrick's The Shining, its dazzling use of juxtaposition, colour, sound and editing make it a seductive experience in cinematic terror, whose aftershock lingers in daydreams and nightmares, filling you with uncertainty and dread even after its horrific climax. Donald Sutherland plays John Baxter, an architect, Julie Christie his wife: a well-to-do couple whose young daughter drowns while out playing. Cut to Venice, out of season, where the couple encounter a pair of sisters, one of whom claims psychic powers and to have communicated with their dead daughter. The subsequent plot is as labyrinthine as the back streets of the city itself, down which Baxter spots a diminutive and elusive red-coated figure akin to his daughter, before being drawn into an almost unbearable finale. Don't Look Now is a Gothic masterpiece, with its melange of gore, mystery, ecstasy, the supernatural and above all grief, while the city of Venice itself--which thanks to Roeg and his team seems to breathe like a dark, sinister living organism throughout the movie--deserves a credit in its own right. Not just a magnificent drama but an advanced feat of cinema. --David Stubbs