On Halloween night I had the chance to catch Don’t Look Now as part of the Mayhem horror film festival (in conjunction with Broadway Cinema). As a resident of Nottingham, it’s always good to see events like this take place. However, Don’t Look Now was made even more impressive as the screening was taking place in St Mary’s Church in the Lace Market (Nottingham’s oldest church) – and it was being introduced by the director Nicolas Roeg.
Don’t Look Now, based on Daphne du Maurier’s short story is a stunningly shot horror/thriller from 1973. The film follows a couple, John and Laura Baxter (Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie) as they try to rebuild their lives following the tragic death of their daughter. The couple are in Venice, where John is restoring a Church, when they meet a pair of odd sisters ((Hilary Mason and Clelia Matania) who tell them that their daughter is with them. This brings John and Laura closer together, but it soon causes friction in their relationship. Then they begin to see their daughter walking the Venice waterways.
Roeg’s film brings together a lot of elements – gothic horror, thriller, drama, religious iconography, loss and the afterlife are just a few and he merges them to create a film that has a dreamlike quality. In lesser-hands the film could have collapsed under such weighty themes, but Roeg supports it by groundling the film in reality. He’s aided by Sutherland and Christie, who were at the height of their ‘70s movie star powers, along with cinematographer Anthony B. Richmond, composer Pino Donaggio and editor Graeme Clifford – who all do sterling work.
St Mary’s Church was a superb location to screen Don’t Look Now. Its gothic housing creating an eerie womb that encased the audience. It added something else, immersing the viewer into the world of the film, almost transporting them into the film’s wintry Venice setting.
Roeg is a great storyteller (he was in conversation with Steven Sheil), discussing the making of the film and the ideas behind it. He delivered a great anecdote about Donald Sutherland delivering the line, ‘Nothing is what it seems’ and also talked about how much fate played in the film’s production . Sterling stuff.
It’s always great seeing a classic film on the big screen, and even better when it’s presented by a cinematic talent like Nicolas Roeg, who has also helmed the likes of Performance and The Man Who Fell To Earth. They don’t make multi-layered horrors like Don’t Look Now anymore; it has a slow burning quality and a visual style that adds depth to a genre which is often overlooked.