I have been invited to speak at the Third Man Museum in Vienna on Graham Greene’s Film World and this will be my first visit to the city. I had lunch with one of the most entertaining and informed contributors to my film lists, Michael Cole – whose daughter lives in Vienna – to mark my card. It was he who suggested I see Bad Timing as it was set in Vienna.
This is a Nicholas Roeg film. There was a fashion in the 70s and 80s to cast rock stars in films: David Bowie appeared in the Roeg’s Man who Fell to Earth, Mick Jagger in another of his films Performance. It does not really work unless, like David Bowie, a mime artist under Lindsay Kemp, they have a grounding in acting. In this film Art Garfunkel played Professor Alex Linden, who has a tempestuous affaire with Melina, played by Theresa Russell, the wife of Roeg.
The film begins with the suicide attempt of Melina and, through a series of flashbacks, the viewer wonders if Linden was implicated. Harvey Keitel plays the detective and Denholm Elliot her Czech husband. The flashbacks make the narration jerky and the film is not always easy to follow. There is a feeling of weirdness too that reflects Roeg’s later films. Theresa Russell is particularly good as the drunken fragile Melina but Art Garfunkel never really defines his part, though he seemed to enjoy the sex scenes, another feature of Roeg as a director, remember Don’t Look Now. And Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie …
The film did not evoke the atmosphere of Vienna in the way The Third Man did, largely because most of the shooting was of Melina on a ventilator, or the interior of the flat as Keitel interrogates Garfunkel. In truth there was little here to enjoy or appreciate, aside from Theresa Russell’s body in varying stages of undress.