Nicolas Roeg on Don't Look Now

On the production, the visual style, and the film's legacy
Nicolas Roeg's Don't Look Now (1973)
Director Nicolas Roeg shares his thoughts and reflections on Don't Look Now, one of the most visually distinctive horror films of the 1970s. Colm McAuliffe also remarks on the film's enduring reputation, and Roeg's sometimes controversial critical reception:
Don’t Look Now was originally a Daphne de Maurier short story, whom at the time was best known for the works Hitchcock adapted for the screen – Rebecca, The Birds and, to a lesser extent, Jamaica Inn. The influence of Hitchcock on Roeg is highlighted by Don’t Look Now’s near-duplication of a classic scene from The 39 Steps – Hitchcock cuts from a woman’s scream to that of a train whistle, while Roeg cuts from Laura Baxter’s shriek in England to that of a jackhammer in Venice.

The casting of Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland as Laura and John Baxter was, according to Roeg, again down to chance: “They ended up being first choice – I wanted Julie and liked the idea of a Canadian in the main male role but we were told we’d never get them. Julia was on McGovern’s campaign (her then-boyfriend Warren Beatty was an advisor on Senator George McGovern’s unsuccessful presidential campaign of 1972) and Donald had just started a movie in Mexico. But the McGovern campaign fell through as did the Mexican film – they were free. Destiny".

Roeg attributes a similar sense of serendipity to a large portion of the film production: "The script has a life separate from itself and chance can never be excluded. The church we eventually used was Nicolò dei Mendicoli (St. Nicholas of the Beggars) and things fell into place after this location was secured – they were actually restoring the church itself at the time. You can see a poster outside declaring ‘Venice in Peril Fund’. [Also]…the incident where the scaffolding collapses under Sutherland’s character – the scaffolding was already there." The Venice portrayed in the film is certainly not the city one would find in a travel brochure. Our expectations are inverted as we see the city permanently engulfed in a dolorous winter grey, wet and, by night, an anaemic dark. [Read More]