Don’t Look Now (GBR, ITA 1973, Nicolas Roeg)
“Textual analyses contemporaneous with each release have tended to refer to colour as a consistent and important element of the film. However, the shifts in image resolution that can be perceived across a series of releases of Don’t Look Now when viewed on different formats affect the way in which instances of the colour red are situated in the film. Red is used to solicit the spectator’s attention to objects that are of particular significance to the narrative, such as the young girl’s raincoat that establishes a visual link with the image of a murderer dressed in a similar hue. In addition, the reflexivity of glare in the mise-en-scene and instances of lens flare obfuscate the viewer’s perception of the image.
Don’t Look Now tracks the journey of John and Laura Baxter to Venice, following the drowning of their daughter Christine. Their desires and sense of loss are manifest in their persistent misrecognition of a figure that haunts the alleyways and canals of the city, whose appearance echoes that of their drowned child. Images that are encountered in the opening sequence and associated with her death recur throughout the film. The film crosscuts shots of John and Laura as they examine images of a church interior on a light box with those of their two children playing by a lake. The fleck of red that is visible in one of the images draws John’s attention to an unknown visitor wearing a hooded coat in the church; the scarlet colour of his daughter’s raincoat in the intercut shots marks a visual association that is refigured over the course of the film. These initially prosaic connections are gradually disturbed, inferring a causative relationship between the image of the hooded figure and the child that can be traced through the colour red.
In the opening sequence, the reflection of Christine’s red raincoat as she runs along the water’s edge is seen as an inverted image on the screen. The disquieting effect of this shot is emphasized by the superimposition of a colour projector slide of a church interior; the layering of the two images accentuates the red-hooded figure seated among the pews as the likeness of Christine. This visual association is marked by another inverted image, one that signals its difference as it traces the reflection of the murderer’s red clothes in the waters of Venice. The complexity of this structure is formed by the repetitions and forces that underlie the unifying effect of the film and paradoxically those aspects that elude resolution and escape into the texture of the text.9 Although classic narrative cinema effaces the marks of its enunciation, its metasystem of codes can be tracked through the entanglement of materials and text in Don’t Look Now. Analyses of the film have invoked the recurrence of the colour red and the dislocation of sounds from the immediacy of visual confirmation through a process of associative editing to address the narrative in terms of the uncanny and the signaling of a presence off-screen.10 This filmic system relies on the variously disordered or incomplete threads of associative editing within which the colour red, as an element of the mise-en-scene, forms a cohesive text. Achromatic text lies beneath the fragmentary effect of associative editing and plays on memory through a process of rewriting that addresses the spectator as historical subject, tethered by their previous encounters with the film and the connections that they formulate among its narrative strands.11
In Don’t Look Now the recurrence of the colour red, which is associated with the death of the child, is marked by intersecting threads of otherwise disparate imagery drawn together by the process of associative editing.
However, colour also operates at the limits of the film stock where instances of lens flare, as an excess of light, overexpose and efface details of the image. The happenstance of lens flare registers as a spatiotemporal coordinate of filming – of that camera, at that time, in that place. Glare is also used to signify a disturbance in visual perception, such as the intense sunlight that is reflected from the pane of glass that the Baxters’ son cycles over in the opening sequence of the film: the reflection of light entices the viewer’s attention to the breaking glass as it instigates the cascade of associative editing and images that surround the drowning of Christine. Images of light refracted by the movement of water and its reflection in the broken glass recur throughout the film. This practice obfuscates aspects of the visual composition, thus emphasizing the disorienting effect of associative editing, insinuating the images as integral both to the desire to know and to the lure of narrative cinema. The anomalies of lens flare in the production of the film and the incorporation of glare in the diegesis are layered with the historical and technological specificity of the film stock and the temporality of the narrative as it unfolds.
9 Stephen Heath, ‘Film and system: terms of analysis, Part I’, Screen, vol. 16, no. 1 (1975), p. 10; Kristin Thompson, ‘The concept of cinematic excess’, in Philip Rosen (ed.), Narrative, Apparatus, Ideology: A Film Theory Reader (New York, NY: Columbia University Press, 1986), p. 130.
10 Penelope Houston, ‘Don’t Look Now‘, Monthly Film Bulletin, vol. 40, no. 476 (1973), p. 205; Joseph Lanza, Fragile Geometry: The Films, Philosophy and Misadventures of Nicolas Roeg (New York, NY: PAJ Publications, 1989); J. Palmer and M. Riley, ‘Seeing, believing and “knowing” in narrative film: Don’t Look Now revisited’, Literature/Film Quarterly, vol. 23, no. 1 (1995), pp. 14–25; Andrew Patch,’Chromatic borders, cosmetic bodies: colour in the films of Nicolas Roeg’, Journal of British Cinema and Television, vol. 7, no. 1 (2010), pp. 69–81.
11 Teresa de Lauretis, Alice Doesn’t: Feminism, Semiotics, Cinema (Indianapolis, In: Indiana University Press, 1984), pp. 99–102.”
(Watkins, Liz (2015): Don’t Look Now. Transience and Text. In: Screen, 4,56, pp. 436–449, on pp. 336–339.)
Don’t Look Now (GBR, ITA 1973, Nicolas Roeg)
“In Don’t Look Now, the colour red takes on this function as it solicits attention against contrasting tones and persists under the erosive effects of spilt liquid. This colour is glimpsed in the residual image of Christine’s little red raincoat and traces what remains incomprehensible to the spectator in the resolution of the narrative; it invites speculation – amidst the deteriorative effect of liquid – about the imaging of loss in the dissolve of the orderly world of architectural form.”
(Watkins, Liz (2015): Don’t Look Now. Transience and Text. In: Screen, 4,56, pp. 436–449, on p. 444.)
Don’t Look Now (GBR, ITA 1973, Nicolas Roeg)
“An analysis of Don’t Look Now offered by Kristi Wilson notes that the visual organization of the image prioritizes the male protagonist as a point of identification for the spectator in the articulation of gendered space. Wilson notes, however, that the reflections and refractions of light in water and mirrors establish a supplementary network of associations among the female characters. These visual effects distract the viewer’s attention and disturb the sexual indifference of a ‘historically and geographically specific space’ that could otherwise ‘be seen as a transparent’.43 The photographic effects that destabilize the male protagonist’s privileged point of view are grounded in the technological and cultural context of the film’s production and circulation. These effects operate at the level of the narrative to draw an alignment of vision and knowledge which is gendered into question. However, a subsequent reading of Don’t Look Now focuses on a chromatic ‘border of grays, blacks, browns and whites’ and the ‘moments when red enters the frame’ as coordinates of John’s perception.44
In Don’t Look Now, red underscores and disrupts a filmic system as it unfolds from the scarlet hue of Christine’s raincoat in the opening sequence and persists through the fragmentary form of associative editing. These images recur elsewhere in the film as does red in other contexts, from the detritus of photographic emulsion, lifted from the colour transparency by the water, to the russet tone of Laura’s boots, from the pattern of red flowers on white hospital curtains, seen after her collapse in a restaurant, to the red votives in a Venetian cathedral, that are interspersed with the white candles that she lights in memory of her daughter. The colour red also marks instances that envision, in turn, John’s and Laura’s perception as it directs the viewer’s attention to particular associative details such as the bright red pattern on a toy ball in the hospital, the outer edge of distortions caused by light reflecting on the camera lens, and the scarlet coat of the figure in Venice. Throughout Don’t Look Now such perceptions are sedimented as memory as they are inflected through past encounters of the film. The perception of colour is dependent on the interrelations of the seeing subject, light and the material that reflects or refracts it, and the context in which it occurs: red seeming more intense against a contrasting green hue than beside a supplementary colour such as amber. In this sense, each instance of colour and the specificity of any particular red hue is inflected by the visual and cultural connections that it makes with other reds.48 The variations that can be perceived across a film text, such as the alterations in the colour and detail of a seemingly familiar image, can be read through the analogy of a melody. This musical form is retained if all of the notes are transposed to another key in the same temporal and spatial relation, and yet the alteration of a single note can distort or transform the melody entirely.49
43 Kristi Wilson, ‘Time, space and vision: Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now‘, Screen, vol. 40, no. 3 (1999), p. 277.
44 Patch, ‘Chromatic borders’, p. 77.
48 Maurice Merleau-Ponty, The Visible and the Invisible, trans. Alphonso Lingis (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1968), p. 132.
49 Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Sense and Non-Sense (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1982), p. 49.”
(Watkins, Liz (2015): Don’t Look Now. Transience and Text. In: Screen, 4,56, pp. 436–449, on pp. 447–448.)