English director Nicholas Roeg followed up his successful 1976 David Bowie vehicle with Bad Timing starring none other than Art Garfunkel of all people, a few years later in 1980. Some of the themes of odd relationships and the sexual tensions between the male and female players in the earlier film are not only carried over into this one, but developed and taken to an even more unusual extreme.
In the Vienna of 1980 we're introduced to a gorgeous American woman named Milena Flaherty (Theresa Russell) in her early twenties who winds up at a local hospital in the emergency room after a failed suicide by drug overdose leaves her unconscious. A psychiatrist named Alex (Art Garfunkel) has arrived at the hospital with her he's the man who called the ambulance and got her to the hospital before she died - and as he watches the medical care givers trying to bring her back to the world of the living, we flashback along with him through the strange ins and outs of their relationship.
As it turns out, the pair met completely by chance at a party and seem to hit it off almost immediately. One thing lead to another and before either of them really knew it, they were in bed together. The pair begin a strange sexual game of cat and mouse with each other, each stage more extreme than the next and often times involving copious amounts of drugs and/or alcohol. Their relationship progresses to the point where these two opposites have found themselves both way in over their heads, unsure of how to bring it to any sense of closure. The fact that Milena is married to a considerably older man (Denholm Elliott) doesn't help matters at all.
Before we relive the past completely, however, a detective named Netusil (played by Harvey Keitel) is introduced. His investigation into Milena's overdose leads him to suspect that Alex may have had more to do with this supposed suicide attempt than he's coping to, and there's that hour of time that he hasn't sufficiently accounted for where she was overdosing and he was
doing something else.
First things first do not let the unusual casting choice of Art Garfunkel in the role of the male lead in this film put you off. Yes, he's an unusual looking man and not really known for his acting abilities (though his limited roles have proven to be pretty good, especially Catch 22) but he is truly excellent in this film. He plays the studious and hyper intelligent common man perfectly, bringing a sense of complete believability to the film that contrasts perfectly with Theresa Russell's overtly sexual and at times quite bratty turn. The chemistry, or at times the complete lack there of, between these two opposites is what rests at the core of Bad Timing and what makes it such an interesting film.
The sexuality in the film becomes increasingly psychological as Alex probes her both physically and mentally while they're in bed together and the results become far more twisted than either expected made even more unusual by the fact that Milena at times seems to get off on having her mind pulled apart by this man who is obviously her superior in terms of intelligence and in terms of perceptiveness. The film at its simplest is yet another 'battle of the sexes' film in which the relationship between a man and a woman is portrayed as a conflict rather than a partnership but there is so much more to this film than that alone that it's almost a crime to label it as such even that is the core of the film.
Roeg's direction is as interesting as always. The pacing of the film is unusual, much like many of this other films, and the storyline jumps around a fair bit but it all works thanks to the clever bridging that takes place in various parts of the film. It's a very clever film, and a very good looking film that tells its story in a rather uncompromising manner that could very well alienate some viewers, but it's a daring movie that is well worth checking out for fans of Roeg's cinema. I wouldn't necessarily give this to someone who isn't familiar with a few of his films as a 'first taste' but those acquainted with his work should find much to appreciate about Bad Timing even if they don't necessarily enjoy the film in the literal sense.
Though not perfect, Criterion's 2.35.1 anamorphic widescreen high definition transfer is pretty damned impressive. There is some moderate film grain in a few scenes and some of the shots are a little bit on the soft side losing some of the really fine detail in the background once in a while, but I'm being pretty nit picky here. Flesh tones look good, color reproduction is very accurate and life like, reds look red and don't bleed into the other less dominant colors at all. Black levels are pretty strong but again, some of the fine detail disappears into them in a couple of scenes. There is definitely some edge enhancement noticeable in a few shots as well, and though it's never really all that over bearing it is there and those who are put off by such things may find it a tad bit irritating.
Overall though, Criterion has done a very solid job with a fairly obscure twenty-five year old film that has never really had a proper home video release in North American before.
Bad Timing comes with a decent if unspectacular English language Dolby Digital Mono sound mix with optional English subtitles that cover not only the dialogue in the film but the lyrics to the music as well, which is always a nice touch.
Quality wise, this track is fine. A surround mix might have been fun in a few spots but the original audio mix gets the job done nicely with respectably clean dialogue and properly balanced levels ensuring that the sound effects and musical score do not overpower what the performers are saying at any given time throughout the film. There could have been more punch in a few spots, particularly in regards to the soundtrack itself and to some of the more note worthy sound effects but for an older mono soundtrack there is, again, little worth complaining about even if it probably could have been a little better.
First up in the extra features department is an excellent interview segment that runs almost a half an hour in length entitled Trade Secrets: Nicholas Roeg And Jeremy Thomas. This video interview was recorded in 2004 and so is quite recent, and the director and producer of the film explain the title of the film and where it came from and also talk about some of the issues that they had getting the project moving. Thomas appears to have had a fairly heavy hand in the creative process of the film, and Roeg was right along with him more so than most director/producer relationships seem to be sometimes. They definitely enjoyed working with one another on this project and this interview is a nice look at how they made it all come together. Just be sure to watch it after the feature itself if you've never seen it before as it does have some mild spoilers.
A very interesting and fairly length video interview with Theresa Russell is next on the list. This one was recorded in early 2005 so again, it's fairly recent. Russell explains why she took this role over other opportunities that she had fall into her lap at the time, and how at only twenty-two years old at the time that this film was made, how it went on to shape her later career and how it affected her personal life as well. This is a great interview, as Russell really opens up about where she was at in life while this production was moving, and this makes for a very personable and very interesting listen.
A batch of sixteen brief deleted scenes total seventeen minutes in combined running time. Roughly half of these scenes do not have sound and so are presented silent, but the other half have some dialogue contained inside which makes it easier to put them into context. Most of this material is simply quick little character development pieces and nothing in here really alters the tone of the film very much at all, though there is some added Garfunkel love scene footage is you're into that.
Rounding out the extra features is the film's original theatrical trailer, a nice still gallery, and an insert booklet of liner notes that contains an essay from Richard Combs that examines the film, and an interview with Art Garfunkel that originally appeared in Rolling Stone magazine back in 1980.
Sadly, there's no audio commentary track from Roeg included on this release, which is a shame as I bet it would have proved an interesting listen.
An absolutely fantastic blend of almost macabre sexuality and truly strange character development, Bad Timing is not going to be for all tastes. However, those who enjoy Roeg's work for the quirkiness it often brings front and center should definitely enjoy this strange entry in an already strange filmography. It's an exceptionally well made and well acted film that gets a very respectable DVD release from the Criterion Collection and comes highly recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.