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The Criterion Collection presents
Bad Timing (1980)

Milena: If we're gonna meet, might as well be now.
Alex: Could be right. Then again, why spoil the mystery?
Milena: Mystery?
Alex: If we don't meet, there's always the possibility it could have been perfect.

- Theresa Russell, Art Garfunkel

Review By: Nate Meyers  
Published: September 26, 2005

Stars: Art Garfunkel, Theresa Russell
Other Stars: Harvey Keitel, Denholm Elliott, Daniel Massey, Dana Gillespie, William Hootkins, Eugene Lipinski
Director: Nicolas Roeg

Manufacturer: DVDL
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (strong sexual content, nudity, language, drug use)
Run Time: 02h:02m:07s
Release Date: September 27, 2005
UPC: 715515016520
Genre: drama


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A- A-BB- B

DVD Review

Nicolas Roeg's Bad Timing is one of the most harrowing looks at human relationships ever told as a movie. In terms of sheer emotion and fortitude it ranks with Ingmar Bergman's Scenes from a Marriage as a marvelous portrait of male-female relations, but it is far more cinematic than Bergman's film. The claustrophobic, hermetically sealed cinematography and performances are so strong, and the subject matter so compelling that the film will remain with you long after it finishes.

Psychoanalyst Alex Linden (Art Garfunkel) meets the young, beautiful Milena (Theresa Russell) at a party, merely by coincidence. The extrovert Milena presses on the restrained Alex, seducing him with her beauty and hint of mystery. The meeting of the two lovers is shown in a flashback, reflecting the psychological state of Alex as he paces in a hospital. Milena has just attempted suicide. Fragments of her phone call to Alex interlace his taking her to a Viennese hospital. The structure is at first jarring, since the timeline of events being depicted on screen is far from clear. Only one thing is clearly deducible: Alex misleads the doctors on the events that transpired earlier in the night.

The film is a study in obsession, using the mutual sexual fixation between Alex and Milena as the nucleus of its story. Snippets of their relationship come across the screen, highlighting their contrasting personalities. Alex feels a need to control the liberated Milena, submitting her to a neatly defined psychological box. Milena, on the other hand, is blind to how her behavior vexes the man she professes to love. As the narrative unfolds, two more characters are introduced into the mix. Alex discovers that Milena is married to Steffan (Denholm Elliott), an older man whom she left at a border between two European countries. The revelation of this hidden layer of Milena's past propels Alex's need to control her. Meanwhile, as Milena is being examined and operated on by doctors, Inspector Netusil (Harvey Keitel) begins to investigate Alex's story. Netusil is not unlike Alex, seeking to control those around him and even dresses quite similarly, and it is only a matter of time until he learns exactly what happened between the two lovers.

The title is surprisingly apt. Just as I found myself trying to decipher what it means, the fog began to lift as Roeg and writer Yale Udoff peel away the various layers of this love story. By shifting the focus of the film from one period in the relationship to another, the conclusion becomes all the more devastating. This is a love story in the strictest sense of the phrase, but it's about a destructive love. Alex and Milena love one another, but perhaps not as much as they love the Jungian archetype locked in their minds. Their love is cold and honest, from the intense sex to the unbearably cruel dialogue.

Art Garfunkel and Theresa Russell are stunning in the lead roles. Garfunkel is utterly convincing as Alex. He captures well the intellectual prowess of a psychologist and the primitive desire of men; the controlled aggression of Alex towards Milena is quietly portrayed in Garfunkel's performance. Russell is even more impressive, however, being utterly captivating every moment she's on screen. Her performance is filled with remarkable courage, but not merely because Russell is willing to display her body with tremendous candor. The strength in her portrayal of Milena comes from her willingness to play the emotional dichotomy of the character. Denholm Elliott and Harvey Keitel are also effective in their roles, though they receive little room to develop their characters. In terms of the narrative's focus on the disastrous relationship, the underdevelopment of the supporting characters is understandable. However, part of me wishes that Keitel's Inspector Netusil received more attention in order to make the final scenes stronger.

Bad Timing is another excellent study in human nature from Roeg. His unique visuals and storytelling style never feel forced, but aid the themes of the film. Indeed, the cinematography and production design are uncomfortable, but they reflect the events on the screen. This is not a picture interested in utilizing Vienna's beautiful scenery to achieve visceral effects; rather, Roeg and his crew prefer to externalize their characters through the film's look and sound. The music is an eclectic mix of classical music and pop songs of the 1970s, but it almost always strikes the underlying purpose of a scene.

Some viewers may be turned off by the emotionally exhausting experience of viewing this movie, while others will see it as a rewarding experience chronicling human flaws. I belong to the latter group, having been stirred by Roeg's film in a manner similar to Bertolucci's Last Tango in Paris. If you are willing to commit yourself to these characters, you'll find they provide a fountain if insight.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A-

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: The 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is a good presentation of the film. Some shots are grainier than others and the age of the film is apparent. A few shots seem to be a bit soft, though it is nothing distracting, and a few distortions between edits can be noticed at the bottom of the frame. However, depth and detail are commendable and the colors (especially Milena's costumes) are vibrant. Skin tones are accurate and blacks come across nicely. Although it is not a flawless picture, the image does contain a strong filmlike look.

Image Transfer Grade: B

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglishno


Audio Transfer Review: Bad Timing is presented in its original monaural mix, with the sound being regulated to the front sound stage. There's a slight hiss in a few spots, but it is hardly noticeable. Otherwise, the music, sound effects, and dialogue are always well balanced and audible.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-

 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 22 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
16 Deleted Scenes
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL

Extra Extras:
  1. Insert—a collectible booklet containing an essay by film critic Richard Combs and an interview with star Art Garfunkel by Chris Hodenfield.
  2. Interviews—video interviews with director Nicolas Roeg, producer Jeremy Thomas, and star Theresa Russell.
Extras Review: The Criterion Collection's supplemental material begins with an insert. Featuring an essay by film critic/historian Richard Combs entitled The Men Who Didn't Know Something, the booklet offers some nice context for the film. Combs dispenses information about Roeg's first approach to the material and how the other key players, such as screenwriter Yale Udoff, came on board. He doesn't analyze the film as much as I would hope, but this is still an adequate review. The second article, A Case of Bad Timing: Art Garfunkel's Real-Life Tragedy by Chris Hodenfield, is a reprint of an article from Rolling Stone when the film was released. He interviews Garfunkel about the death of his lover, Laurie Bird, during the shoot. They discuss other things, but the weight of that tragedy overrides them all and makes for an affecting read.

On the disc itself, things get started with Trade Secrets: Nicolas Roeg and Jeremy Thomas (:28m). This video interview with the director and producer, respectively, goes into various ideas behind the film and its themes. Roeg dominates the feature, talking about casting and the choice of music—in fact, its delay in hitting the home theater circuit was due to securing the music rights. It's an interesting, informative extra. The second interview, Theresa Russell (19m:17s), goes into her decision to make the movie and how difficult she found the part of Milena as a young actress. She paints a vivid portrait, thanks to her lively personality, and is a breath of fresh air in comparison to all the other actors who come across as snobbish. Russell's demeanor and anecdotes about the shoot make for another excellent interview.

Additionally, there are 16 deleted scenes that can be viewed individually or all together. The first eight have the original audio recording from the set, while the second eight have no audio at all. Referring to the first set, they all are interesting but for the most part were wisely cut from the final film. However, "Cocktail Party" is a choice scene and actually seems like it might have been a mistake to have cut. As for the scenes with no audio, it isn't clear whether they would have improved the movie or not. They look interesting and contain, I believe, more character development of Milena. However, without the sound it's difficult to assess them. Each scene is shown in anamorphic 2.35:1 widescreen.

Rounding out the special features is the original theatrical trailer, also shown in anamorphic 2.35:1 widescreen. It's nothing special, but the extras as a whole are a nice bonus to the film.

Extras Grade: B

 

Final Comments

A stunning, powerful film, Nicolas Roeg's Bad Timing arrives to DVD in the solid hands of the Criterion Collection. Featuring a strong presentation and fine extras, this set is a must-have for all admirers of Roeg's work.

 


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