BBC’s Arena celebrates one of the great modern film makers.

Mick Jagger in Nic Roeg and Donald Cammell's Performance.

Mick Jag­ger in Nic Roeg and Don­ald Cam­mel­l’s Per­for­mance.

Nico­las Roeg has only made 13 films in total, but the first sev­en of them makes up one of the most impor­tant bod­ies of work in Euro­pean cinema.

He began in the cam­era depart­ment, and by the 1960s he was the cin­e­matog­ra­ph­er on some of Britain’s most icon­ic films, work­ing on Lawrence of Ara­bia, Far From the Madding Crowd and Doc­tor Zhiva­go, though he remained un-cred­it­ed on that last one after a falling out with David Lean.

Then in 1970 he made his direc­to­r­i­al debut Per­for­mance, which, unusu­al­ly for a British film, he direct­ed togeth­er with Don­ald Cam­mell. Roeg con­cen­trat­ed on the look of the film, and Cam­mell worked with the actors and on the script. The gift­ed but trou­bled Cam­mell then made Demon Seed in 77, but when the stu­dio man­gled their cut of his Wild Side in 1995, he com­mit­ted suicide.

Julie Christy in Don't Look Now.

Julie Christy in Don’t Look Now.

Although the world of Per­for­mance is very much the one that Cam­mell inhab­it­ed, with its heady mix of the May­fair set and gang­ster Lon­don, it looks and feels like a Roeg film. And the cast­ing of Mick Jag­ger in one of the leads would be fol­lowed sub­se­quent­ly by Roeg with David Bowie in The Man Who Fell to Earth and Art Gar­funkel in Bad Tim­ing.

Walk­a­bout, his first film prop­er, was next in ’71. A star­tling­ly orig­i­nal take on the clash of civ­i­liza­tions as a white boy and girl are left to fend for them­selves in the Aus­tralian out­back after being aban­doned there. But it was Don’t Look Now in ‘73 that real­ly caught the world’s attention.

Don­ald Suther­land and Julie Christy are in Venice try­ing to come to terms with the death of their child. The film unfolds with an ellip­ti­cal, almost casu­al­ly poet­ic mould­ing of time, and it is this more than any­thing that char­ac­ter­izes Roeg’s work.

David Bowie as The Man Who Fell To Earth.

David Bowie as The Man Who Fell To Earth.

This strik­ing­ly lat­er­al, almost anti lin­ear sense of time, and one of the most mem­o­rable and grown up sex scenes in mod­ern cin­e­ma woke the world up to a seri­ous Euro­pean film maker.

The Man Who Fell To Earth fol­lowed in ‘76, Bad Tim­ing in ‘80, Eure­ka in ‘83 and then Insignif­i­cance in ‘85. All are crim­i­nal­ly over-looked. They each man­age to be daz­zling­ly orig­i­nal in their look and feel as they tack­le exis­ten­tial themes with a deft light­ness of touch. Intel­lec­tu­al depth explored with visu­al bril­liance, panache and orig­i­nal­i­ty, so that form and con­tent per­fect­ly merge.

Teresa Russell in the criminally overlooked Insignificance.

Tere­sa Rus­sell in the crim­i­nal­ly over­looked Insignif­i­cance.

If you’ve yet to see any of them, lucky you, it’s all ahead of you.

Cast­away was some­thing of a damp squib in 86, but Track 29 in 88, script­ed by Denis Pot­ter was a return to form. But his film of Roald Dahl’s The Witch­es in 90 was anoth­er mild dis­ap­point­ment, falling some­where in between a children’s and a grown up’s film.

And that alas is pret­ty much it. There have been three films since, but they are hard­ly worth men­tion­ing in the con­text of what had come before. And ever since, Roeg has been talk­ing to var­i­ous pro­duc­ers and financiers about mak­ing a come­back. So the Are­na pro­file, apt­ly titled It’s About Time on BBC4 was some­thing of a mixed blessing.

Gene Hackman in Eureka.

Gene Hack­man in Eure­ka.

On the one hand, it was final­ly some sort of recog­ni­tion for, arguably, the most impor­tant, and cer­tain­ly the most orig­i­nal film mak­er that Britain has ever pro­duced. On the oth­er, if felt like an admis­sion of defeat as far as any future projects are concerned.

Watch the Are­na pro­file. And then treat your­selves to one of those first sev­en films of his.

Rather like David Bowie’s six albums between Young Amer­i­cans and Scary Mon­sters, those first sev­en films of Roeg’s man­age to be at once extra­or­di­nar­i­ly var­ied and yet vis­i­bly, dis­tinct­ly craft­ed by the same bril­liant hand.

In the mean­time, here’s the trail­er  for Don’t Look Now. And this by the way is how you cut a trail­er. Every stu­dio head in Hol­ly­wood should be forced to watch this at least once a week.

Sign up for a sub­scrip­tion right or below, and I shall keep you post­ed every month on All the very best and worst in film, tele­vi­sion and music!

Bowie as ever bucks the trend.

David Bowie "Nothing Has Changed".

Dou­ble-vinyle edition.

Like Reader’s Digest and tinned spaghet­ti, great­est hits albums are a cul­tur­al affront. By tak­ing the orig­i­nal out of its con­text, and reduc­ing and re-pack­ag­ing it with such shame­less cyn­i­cism, you hope­less­ly deval­ue it whilst insult­ing the intel­li­gence of those you are try­ing to appeal to.

Invari­ably, they’re some­thing the record label releas­es behind your back, and as such, most artists want noth­ing to do with them. As ever and as usu­al, David Bowie appears to be the excep­tion to this.

Some­thing about the man seems to give every­thing he does an irre­sistible sheen. And of late, he’s pulled off the remark­able feat of mak­ing even his mon­ey mak­ing schemes look chic. After he issued his Bowie Bonds in 1997 for a cool 55 mil­lion pounds Ster­ling, and when­ev­er anoth­er ad appears propped up by one more of his (albeit re-mas­tered) tracks, we all applaud, impressed.

The triple cd and the one to get.

The triple cd and the one to get.

Instead of lament­ing that one of the giants has joined the great unwashed to spend what remains of his pre­cious time in point­less­ly dredg­ing through his back cat­a­logue to need­less­ly gen­er­ate yet more un-nec­es­sary mon­ey. We con­grat­u­late him on treat­ing the mon­e­ti­za­tion of his back cat­a­logue with as much imag­i­na­tion as he would the cre­ation of a new album.

And now he’s pulled off the same feat with (anoth­er) great­est hits col­lec­tion, Noth­ing Has Changed.

Per­haps it’s just that when an artist does take a per­son­al inter­est in a great­est hits album, we’re so unused to it that it feels like they’ve called around to our house to talk us through it personally.

The fact of the mat­ter is, the tweaks that he has made to this one prob­a­bly amount­ed to no more than a one line email dic­tat­ed to one of his assistants.

Yet there’s no get­ting away from it. Noth­ing Has Changed feels like Bowie has per­son­al­ly over­seen it. And as such, it feels so much more sub­stan­tial than a con­ven­tion­al col­lec­tion. Once again, and as ever, we’re impressed.

The 2-cd edition.

The 2‑cd edition.

There are three dif­fer­ent ver­sions, each (again) with their own bespoke cov­er art. And, as not­ed by the boys from Pitch­fork who give it an 8.8 here, you can ignore the two more con­ven­tion­al dou­ble albums, and go straight for the impres­sive­ly dynam­ic triple cd ver­sion.

It sounds like only a small thing, but going through his career as it does in reverse order is inspired. Instead of wear­ing out the first cd, return­ing to the sec­ond, and only occa­sion­al­ly dip­ping into the third, you lis­ten with rapt atten­tion to all three as it builds and builds.

It’s not that there’s been noth­ing of worth since 1990. But truth be told, the gems have got­ten few­er and fur­ther between. So the fact that a num­ber of the more recent tracks have been giv­en a re-mix helps to bol­ster the ear­li­er (ie chrono­log­i­cal­ly lat­er) tracks.

But even here, you sense his per­son­al pres­ence. When James Mur­phy ref­er­ences Ash­es to Ash­es in his Love is Lost, and then the Pet Shop Boys give Space Odd­i­ty a nod on their Hel­lo Space­boy it’s impos­si­ble not to imag­ine the great man stand­ing behind them at the mix­ing desk, over­see­ing matters.

In the midst of those 5 extraordinary years.

In the midst of those 5 extra­or­di­nary years.

But what real­ly makes the whole thing so cap­ti­vat­ing is the con­fir­ma­tion that Bowie has a Mozart-esqe abil­i­ty to churn out impos­si­bly mem­o­rable melodies at the drop of one of his many hats. What this means is, that he is at once an albums artist, and a sin­gles artist.

On the one hand, there’s the Bowie who made, arguably, the most impres­sive and out­ra­geous­ly diverse 6 albums ever pro­duced, over a six year peri­od between 1975 and 1980, begin­ning with Young Amer­i­cans and cul­mi­nat­ing with Scary Mon­sters.

From total immer­sion in Philly soul, to the fore­front of the elec­tron­ic avant-garde, and on into the sec­ond wave of punk. And all just two years after being the new­ly crowned king of glam rock.

And yet at the same time and dur­ing all of which, he can pro­duce a nev­er-end­ing string of out­ra­geous­ly hum­ma­ble tunes that pull unashamed­ly at the heart strings. From Life On Mars and Dri­ve-in Sat­ur­day in the ear­ly 70s to Every­one Says Hi in 2002 and Where Are We Now? from last year’s oth­er­wise (whis­per it) huge­ly dis­ap­point­ing The Next Day.

It’s this com­bi­na­tion of artis­tic ambi­tion, and an ear for the per­fect melody that makes Bowie so beguil­ing, and keeps us all so con­sis­tent­ly impressed. And that’s what rais­es this col­lec­tion up so thrillingly.

Sign up for a sub­scrip­tion right or below, and I shall keep you post­ed every month with All the Very Best and Worst in Film, Tele­vi­sion and Music!

Brian Eno teams up with Underworld’s Karl Hyde for “Someday World”.

Eno, left in  Roxy Music.

Eno (left) with Bryan Fer­ry (cen­tre) in Roxy Music.

In 1979, Bri­an Eno sat down with a can of fizzy pop and a pack­et of Hula Hoops to idly watch an episode of Mork and Mindy. It was the last uncre­ative thing he ever did. Since then, he’s been for­ev­er doing some­thing.

My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts.

My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts.

After leav­ing Roxy Music and invent­ing ambi­ent music, he worked on Bowie’s sem­i­nal Berlin tril­o­gy, pro­duced three of Talk­ing Heads’ best albums, all of the best U2 albums, and pio­neered sam­pling with David Byrne with My Life in The Bush Of Ghosts back in 1981.

He’s worked on sound­tracks, instal­la­tions and albums with Gavin Bryars, Michael Nyman, Daniel Lanois, Robert Fripp, John Cale, Lau­rie Ander­son, Robert Wyatt and James Blake, as well as Dido, Cold­play and Microsoft. Despite the fact that he only works on a Mac.

In oth­er words, he’s both intim­i­dat­ing­ly pro­lif­ic, and con­scious­ly catholic in his choice of col­lab­o­ra­tors. His last two albums are hap­pi­ly more of the same.

His lat­est offer­ing is Some­day World, which he pro­duced with Underworld’s Karl Hyde. It’s an infec­tious­ly upbeat, anthemic album that will pro­vide the per­fect back­drop for your next trip in a car or on a train. But truth be told, even though it’s a lit­tle bit bet­ter than the 6.2 it gets from Pitch­fork  here, it is just a lit­tle underwhelming.

Bowie, Bono and Eno in '02.

Bowie, Bono and Eno in ’02.

Much more sat­is­fy­ing is his 2012 offer­ing, Lux. Hark­ing back to his ear­li­er, pure­ly ambi­ent work such as Music for Air­ports in 1978, or Apol­lo, the piece he did with his broth­er Roger and Daniel Lanois in 1983, Lux as its title sug­gests is both calm and inti­mate, yet warm and expan­sive. Some­how, even monumental.

It is yet anoth­er remark­able addi­tion to a stag­ger­ing back cat­a­logue. You can hear a sam­ple from Lux here.

Sign up for a sub­scrip­tion right or below and I shall keep you post­ed every week on All the Very Best and Worst in Film, Tele­vi­sion and Music!

Janelle Monae’s New Album Razzle Dazzles.

Electric Lady.

The Elec­tric Lady.

The Elec­tric Lady is the much await­ed fol­low-up to Janelle Mon­ae’s debut The Archan­droid from 2010. Like its pre­de­ces­sor, it’s not so much a con­cept album, as it is one that inhab­its a musi­cal land­scape in much the same way that Bowie plant­ed him­self in the world of Zig­gy Star­dust.

If any­thing, this is an even more impres­sive affair than her debut. Not unlike Bowie, despite bor­row­ing and imbib­ing vora­cious­ly from any num­ber of dif­fer­ent sources, what she ends up pro­duc­ing some­how man­ages to have a remark­able musi­cal coherence.

Bowie as Ziggy.

Bowie as Ziggy.

There are echoes of Mar­vin Gaye and Ste­vie Won­der, oodles of Sly and The Fam­i­ly Stone, and a hint of Boo­by Wom­ack. But most of all, the album nods, gen­u­flects and embraces the fig­ure of Prince.

Cor­rect­ly – and sig­nif­i­cant­ly – the album kicks off with a duet with him. Before sub­se­quent tracks see her joined by Erykah Badu, Solange, Miguel and Esper­an­za Spald­ing as she fus­es and melds jazz, funk, soul and RnB with hiphop. And all of it drowned in her sump­tu­ous melodies and soar­ing vocals.

Cat­e­go­rize me, I defy every label.” Q.U.E.E.N.

The boys from Pitch­fork gave it an 8.3 here. If it doesn’t make your end of year top 5 list, I shall eat an item of cloth­ing of your choice. You can see the offi­cial video for Q.U.E.E.N. here.

Skip the open­ing 50 sec­onds and head for the song prop­er. And you can hear the sen­sa­tion­al title track Elec­tric Lady  here.

Sign up for a sub­scrip­tion right or below and I shall keep you post­ed every week on All the Very Best and Worst in Film, Tele­vi­sion and Music!