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Bad Timing: The Criterion Collection

Told through a series of flashbacks, Nicolas Roeg's controversial Bad Timing (1980) slowly unfolds as psychoanalyst Dr. Alex Linden (Art Garfunkel) tells the story of his sexual obsession with disturbed, elusive Milena Flaherty (Theresa Russell) to a police inspector after Milena's attempted suicide. The investigator, Inspector Netusil (Harvey Keitel), is treated to the bizarre and, eventually, extremely repulsive lengths to which Linden went to possess her. Directed by Roeg (The Man Who Fell to Earth, Don't Look Now, Walkabout), the film is less about the supposed plot than it is about the visceral images and intense relationships onscreen. Linden, as played by Garfunkel, is an almost timid, ineffectual man whose career involves unlocking people's deepest secrets. When he meets the brazen but secretive Milena, her combination of slutty abandon and emotional reserve makes her a puzzle he must solve. But the affair itself is hardly the torrid, erotically charged fling that the film's premise would suggest — the pair are awfully mismatched, both as lovers and as actors, with Garfunkel's placid underplaying contrasting ludicrously with Russell's arm-flinging scenery-chewing. Originally titled Bad Timing: A Sensual Obsession, the movie's been unavailable on home video for years outside of imports and bootlegs, with more history behind it than is deserved, given what's on the screen. There are grisly, disturbing images, to be sure — most notably a tracheotomy performed on Russell that's intercut with her cries of sexual abandon — and the movie was trashed on release both by critics and the film's own backers (one official from the financing company called it "a sick movie, made by sick people for sick people") and received an 'X' rating. Young stars Garfunkel and Russell (the latter just 21 years old) reportedly tried to quit just four days into the shoot, Roeg sometimes kept his drug-and-booze fueled crew working for up to 24 hours at a time, and a very graphic rape scene of an unconscious Milena was, Roeg told The Guardian newspaper in 2000, a point at which acting became almost a psychosexual exercise for the performers. And yet, amid the sickness, Roeg and Russell fell in love (they married in 1982) and another quirky, weird, hallucinatory Nic Roeg film was created, adding to his legend as a director who follows his own bizarre, twisted vision wherever it make take him. Certainly not a film for the squeamish, Criterion's DVD release of Bad Timing offers an opportunity for fans of Roeg's other work to see one where he went utterly off the rails. Criterion's new "director-approved" special edition offers their usual excellent work in an anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) that's clean as a whistle, with gorgeous color and beautiful contrast. The monaural Dolby Digital 1.0 audio is less impressive, flat and cold, and doing a huge disservice to the film's score, which features Billie Holiday, Tom Waits, and The Who. Dialogue is clear and doesn't suffer, but the overall sound is still disappointing. There are some nice extras, including new interviews with Roeg, Russell, and producer Jeremy Thomas. A commentary track with Roeg would have been nice — so where is it? That Roeg was unable or unwilling to sit down and explain what was going through his head during the making of this, of all his films, is deeply disappointing. There are 16 deleted scenes, mostly just bits of extraneous film that offer nothing of substance; a stills-and-posters gallery; the theatrical trailer; and a very nice booklet with an essay by film critic Richard Combs and a 1980 Garfunkel interview that originally appeared in Rolling Stone. Keep-case.
—Dawn Taylor

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