Don’t Look Now (1973)


I will admit it from the very beginning:  this is a rant.    Rants are good for you, and we should all have them from time to time, I’m sure you’ll agree.

I had to watch Don’t Look Now this week for teaching purposes.  I last saw the film when I was about fifteen, and I remember not being exactly over-enamored with it back then.  But that was twenty-five years ago (I say this with a sudden realisation that I can recall things from a quarter of a century ago – I’m getting old).   So, I went into this latest viewing without any real expectations, other than the fact that it’s viewed as a “modern classic” (modern despite the fact it’s now 42 years old).

It will come as little surprise that I really and truly do not agree with those that have hailed it as a masterpiece.  On the contrary, I found it to be overlong, tedious, self-indulgent and pretentious twaddle.  It is a “clever film.”  I will grant it that much – but cleverness for the sake of showing off and being clever is pointless.  The editing of the film is brilliantly done – if you’re giving a lecture on what can be achieved by jump cuts and match cuts etc.  But most people watching the film are doing so because they want a diverting way to spend two hours, not because they want to sit at the screen and say “oh, that’s clever.”  In the end, it’s this clever editing that is the film’s downfall for me (or, at least, it’s biggest downfall).  Instead of producing a film that is seamless and engrossing, it produces a film that constantly reminds you that you are a watching a film.

This is, of course, relatively normal for an “arthouse” film, but Don’t Look Now doesn’t present itself as an arthouse film.  In fact it doesn’t seem to know what the hell it is.  Is it a horror film?  Kind of, but not really.  Is it to be viewed as entertainment?  Well, no, not really.  In fact what it seemingly tries to do is straddle the notions of horror, arthouse and entertainment – and ultimately fails at all three.  It’s like watching Kubrick – I would really like the hours back that I have spent watching Kubrick films.  In other words, it’s an entertainment that is just too damned clever for its own good.  It’s pretentious in the fact that it is trying to somehow elevate itself over the cinema of (for?) the masses and yet still be entertaining, and it tries to do that by stealing leaves out of  the arthouse book:  playing with time and space, showing how clever editing can be, a plot moving along at a pace slower than me with a dodgy knee and walking stick, and completely and utterly pointless shots of Donald Sutherland’s and Julie Christie’s hairy bits.

In short, Don’t Look Now encapsulates the very type of filmmaking that I abhor: cleverness for the sake of cleverness.  It might be clever but it sure as hell isn’t entertaining as it meanders along not really going anywhere and only providing a mystery by playing tricks on the audience.  It’s the equivalent of writing a whodunnit and only introducing the murderer to the audience on page 198 of 200.  Yes, the film is very “worthy,” but worthy of what?  I have no problem with arthouse cinema – you know what you’re getting when you walk into the cinema or when you put the DVD in the player.  But this type of no-man’s-land (and Roeg is one of the “best” exponents of it, at least in his earlier directorial efforts) doesn’t excite me at all.  It leaves me totally cold…and reaching for the DVD eject button or, at the very least, the fast forward option just to see what happens at the end.  And in the case of Don’t Look Now, don’t even get me started on that.