Provocative British film director Nicolas Roeg dies at 90

Director Nicolas Roeg, known for films such as “Performance,” “Don’t Look Now” and “The Man Who Fell to Earth,” died Friday, his son said.
(Jonathan Short / Associated Press)

Nicolas Roeg, the provocative British director known for films such as “Performance,” “Don’t Look Now” and “The Man Who Fell to Earth,” has died at age 90.

His death was confirmed by his son Nicolas Roeg Jr., according to Britain’s Press Assn.

Roeg’s career spanned numerous eras of filmmaking and provided a template for bringing an iconoclastic vision and idiosyncratic formal sense to the work. His visual flair and jagged, atemporal editing style became a personal signature, at once instantly recognizable and difficult to replicate.

In a 2011 interview with The Times regarding “The Man Who Fell to Earth,” which starred singer David Bowie, Roeg spoke about his unconventional storytelling style.


“I think I’ve never really liked the idea of genre, a film that follows the rules of a genre,” Roeg said. “I like to think that we are all manners to all men. I think that’s what drew me to it. You spotted right away that the distinct difference is it’s on the verge of acceptable, but it’s difficult.”

Roeg began his film career in 1947 when he landed a job in an editing room after being discharged from the British army. After becoming a camera operator and then a cinematographer, he worked on the second unit of David Lean’s “Lawrence of Arabia” (1962) but was later reportedly fired by Lean as cinematographer for “Doctor Zhivago” (1965).

He would go on to make a name for himself as a cinematographer, shooting such notable films as Francois Truffaut’s “Fahrenheit 451” (1966), John Schlesinger’s “Far From the Madding Crowd” (1967) and Richard Lester’s “Petulia” (1968).

His first film as a director, co-directed with Donald Cammell, was “Performance” (1970), starring Mick Jagger and James Fox, in a psychedelic story of identity and sexuality focused on a rock star and a gangster.


From there he made “Walkabout” (1971) and “Don’t Look Now” (1973), starring Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie. “Don’t Look Now,” an adaptation of a short story by Daphne du Maurier about a couple dealing with the aftermath of the death of their young daughter, earned a BAFTA Awards nomination for best film and Roeg a nomination for direction. The movie has repeatedly been named the best British film of all time in a poll of critics and industry professionals by Time Out London.

David Bowie in Nicolas Roeg's "The Man Who Fell to Earth."
(Rialto Pictures)

Roeg followed that with 1976’s “The Man Who Fell to Earth,” Bowie’s feature acting debut as an alien trapped in exile on Earth. Though the film received a mixed reception on its initial release, it has built a beloved cult reputation, in part boosted by the fact that Bowie used photographs from the movie on the covers of his albums “Station to Station” and “Low.”

In 1980, Roeg released “Bad Timing: A Sensual Obsession,” starring Theresa Russell and Art Garfunkel. Roeg and Russell would collaborate on numerous projects, including “Eureka” (1983), “Insignificance” (1985), his segment of the 1987 British anthology “Aria” and “Track 29” (1988).


Russell became Roeg’s second wife and they have two children together. He is also survived by his first wife, Susan Stephen, and their four children, and his third wife, Harriet Harper.

In 1990, Roeg released his adaptation of Roald Dahl’s “The Witches,” starring Anjelica Huston. His 1991 film “Cold Heaven” starred Russell and Mark Harmon. His last major film was 2007’s “Puffball,” starring Kelly Reilly, Rita Tushingham and Miranda Richardson.

Over the years, many filmmakers, including Danny Boyle, Steven Soderbergh, Edgar Wright, Sam Taylor-Johnson and others, have spoken of the influence of Roeg’s bold visual, editing and storytelling styles.

Even in an interview at age 82, Roeg was reluctant to declare himself officially retired, preferring to look forward.


“I must say it’s very difficult to talk about the past,” Roeg said in 2011. “I think I put this line in ‘Eureka’ — a woman says to her husband, ‘You fell into life.’ And as I think of the past, I can’t construct an intentional past. I think nearly everyone falls into life by extraordinary chance.”


11:15 a.m.: This article was updated throughout with staff reporting and additional details of Roeg’s work and life.


5:30 p.m.: This article was updated with a few details and fixes the spelling of Anjelica Huston’s name.

This article was originally published at 8:25 a.m.